LOUIS Romanet, Chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), led the eighth Plenary Session, entitled ‘Equine Welfare’, on the the final day of the 38th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) in Cape Town.
“Equine welfare, why is it important?” Romanet asked. “It is the morally correct thing to do and social norms now place an even greater expectation that we do everything in our power to protect the welfare of our horses. This is a turning point for our industry – much good has already been done, but there is more to do and dire consequences unless this happens.”
Jamie Stier, Chair of the IFHA Horse Welfare Committee & Executive General Manager of Integrity Services at Racing Victoria, pointed out that equine welfare has become a focal point in Australia. The long-term welfare of every horse needs to be ensured: “A line in the sand had been drawn and it has had a severe effect on our industry.”
Stier focused on four key issues: community expectations, racing’s moral obligation, high-profile equine cruelty cases and racing’s responsibilities. He said: “Community expectations should be met by our own personal undertaking to provide the highest appropriate level of care for every thoroughbred horse throughout each of the three phases of its life.”
There is no right or wrong approach to equine welfare, he continued, as long as positive outcomes for the welfare of the horse is at the centre of racing’s decision-making, addressing the moral obligation to deliver a program that works. Racing Victoria’s solution to the growing crisis has been to expand its dedicated equine welfare unit, accelerating last year’s equine welfare strategy plan by injecting a lot more money, improving data collection and setting about dispelling mistruths in the public arena about racing. There is no easy or quick solution, but racing has to urgently consider what more can be done to stop mistreatment. In conclusion, Mr. Stier said the racing industry as a whole – jockeys, owners, breeders, fans and punters – are all accountable to themselves and to the community for equine welfare.
Tom Reilly, Chief Executive Officer of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia (TBA) & former Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, concurred and pointed out that equine welfare is a story that is not going to go away.
He revealed that racing is strongly woven into Australian society: “One in every 244 Australians owns a share in a racehorse and racing contributes A$9billion to the nation’s economy every year. It is a huge industry.” And yet, it is under threat as 86% of Australia’s 24million population live in major towns or cities. He explained: “The animal welfare lobby is very strong in Australia and very effective. Racing is a very obvious target. We race for a lot of money, horses are bought for a lot of money and it has a number of high-profile owners. Racing needs to be on the front foot rather just being reactive.” Attendances and wagering turnover have been impacted by welfare issues.
The TBA, in conjunction with other trade organisations, has recently announced a new initiative, with the establishment of an independent working group to provide sustainable recommendations for equine welfare. The four-strong group is looking at global best practice and consulting with the industry.
Senior Legal Counsel of The Jockey Club in the United States, Ms. Kristin Werner, said that horse racing in America faced one of its most difficult years in 2019, due to a spate of fatalities at one of its main tracks, Santa Anita. “Through print and online media, the public was inundated with the negatives of our sport. Hence, many groups in the US have come together to try to make racing safer and to promote the welfare of our horses.”
What makes this difficult, she added, is the fragmentation within the US system, due to having more than 30 racing jurisdictions, all with different rules, regulations, penalties, and no centralised regulatory authority.
“The focus on what happens to our horses after their racing and breeding careers come to an end is only going to become more acute,” said Werner. She added that the United States does have aftercare facilities for all breeds of horses and that many focus on thoroughbreds only, such as the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), which was established in 2012. Today the TAA has 74 accredited organisations in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico and is supported by donations from The Jockey Club. Another initiative is The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program, which recognises and rewards the versatility of the thoroughbred through sponsorship of thoroughbred classes at sanctioned horse shows. An equine injury database was established in 2008 and regular welfare summits take place, while a racing surfaces laboratory produces best practice advice.
“Thoroughbreds are the backbone of our sport. Keeping them safe is paramount; not only because it ensures the success of our industry, but because it is the right thing to do,” she concluded.
Dr. Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinary Officer of the Stronach Group, enlightened the delegates as to the many measures that have been implemented at Santa Anita. These changes include the establishment of the governor’s review panel. Entries are reviewed, with limits placed on medication used in training, whip use stopped during work sessions and the affirmation of private veterinarians, prior to working, that a horse is sound. Further initiatives include the requirement for horses to be registered for workouts, tracking horse injury and medication history, an increased veterinary presence during track work, drug tests, and imposed breaks for treated horses.
“Has it worked? I do feel like it is working,” said Dr. Benson. She revealed that at Santa Anita there has been nearly a 60% reduction in the catastrophic breakdown rate during racing and a 75% reduction in the breakdown rate during training. “Our goal is zero fatalities. It may not be feasible, but that will remain our goal. We are all in the same boat. None of us is immune. We need to act now. If we do not make these changes and investments, horse racing will no longer be around.”
Host Mr. David Eades facilitated a panel discussion between the four speakers and champion South African trainer, Mike de Kock, who is all for establishing more support for ex-racehorses and the introduction of common rules and practices worldwide. -HKJC.