Two-year-old thoroughbreds may race safely and without adverse long-term consequences. In fact, scientific evidence shows that when the training and racing of young horses is managed carefully, early training and racing is actually beneficial for a horse’s future racing resilience.
However, training and racing regimes must be sympathetic to the developmental and physiological adaptive processes of the young horse.
Victorian racing is structured to be sympathetic to young horses, with no two-year-old races programmed before 25 September each season and no more than 20 two-year-old races conducted in the first three months of the season (25 September – 31 December). This allows adequate time for rest, recovery and musculoskeletal adaption.
Race distances are also capped, with no two-year-old event in Victoria programmed over 1800m.
Racing Victoria maintains comprehensive racing injury statistics that are used to design and implement injury prevention and mitigation measures and also to identify areas for further scientific research.
Horses that are trained to jump have prolonged racing careers and are very well cared for by their trainers. They are also much sought after for future careers in other equine sports. Racing Victoria seeks to make jumps racing as safe as possible. Jumps racing in Victoria has made a dramatic improvement in recent years thanks to a series of safety enhancements including new jumps, tougher qualifying conditions, better education programs and improved riding policies.
Some of the initiatives introduced and managed by Racing Victoria include:
- An expert Jumps Review Panel that approves horses to compete in jumping races and reviews all jumps races and trials to assess and provide comments on the performance of each horse. The Jumps Review Panel take the following points into account when qualifying a horse;
- Jumping ability
- Performance in trials
- Fitness and overall condition
- Any other factors the Panel considers relevant in its discretion.
- Training programs are provided for jockeys and trainers of jumps horses, with riders encouraged to ease horses out of races that are fatiguing or appear to be struggling for whatever reason out of the race.
- Pre-race veterinary inspections of all horses are performed by experienced RV veterinarians prior to every jumps race to ensure that horses are in a suitable veterinary condition to take part in the race.
- Comprehensive statistical reports of falls from each race meeting are compiled and used to identify preventable risk factors, such as individual obstacles which may pose a problem.
- The design of all racecourse obstacles to be compliant with the specifications of the Obstacle Working Group, which includes jumping riders and trainers.
- All hurdles and fences are regularly maintained and installed by trained personnel.
- Racecourses and obstacles are inspected for safety prior to each race meeting.
- Qualifying conditions are enforced by stewards to ensure all horses competing in jumping races are fit and skilled enough to do so.
- Comprehensive post-mortem examinations are performed on all horses that suffer fatal injuries during jumps racing.
Retirement and Life After Racing
Racing Victoria (RV) is committed to ensuring racehorses are afforded the appropriate care both during and after their racing life.
Industry research indicates that most owners and trainers work hard to ensure suitable homes are found for horses at the end of their racing careers.
RV believes there is a home for every healthy thoroughbred and we are working with both the racing and equestrian industries to create even more prospects to re-home retired racehorses in Victoria.
RV’s Off the Track program promotes the thoroughbred, re-trainers and the many post-racing opportunities for retired racehorses. Retired racehorses are the ideal equestrian athletes for pleasure riding, pony club or professional equestrian disciplines and thoroughbreds are highly sought after because of their versatility, athleticism and striking presence.
RV has welcomed the recent introduction of national regulations which mean it is now compulsory for managing owners to notify Racing Information Services Australia (RISA) of the retirement of their horse.
This reform will capture important information about why racehorses are retired as well as details about their life after racing – equipping the industry with knowledge which will help direct future welfare activities. The majority of owners and trainers retire their horses responsibly and collating this data will also help to ensure the industry is represented truthfully.
The safety and welfare of jockeys and horses is the paramount concern for Racing Victoria (RV) in assessing whether hot weather racing protocols are implemented and whether a race meeting should proceed or be abandoned in hot weather conditions.
RV has introduced a science-based system of monitoring the health and safety of racehorses in hot conditions with guidelines on the trigger points for implementing hot weather management protocols, adjustments to the race program and transfer or abandonment of the meeting.
There are a number of factors that must be considered when determining the safety of racing in hot weather conditions, these include:
- Ambient temperature
- Breeze/air movement
- Individual horse factors
- Transport distances
- Racecourse facilities and micro-climate
- Duration of the race
- Time of year and opportunity for horses to adapt to hot weather conditions
The susceptibility of an animal to heat stress is not solely influenced by temperature. Certain factors can adversely affect an individual horse's ability to withstand racing in hot weather. These include:
- Travelling long distances prior to competition
- An excitable temperament
- Younger horses may be less acclimatised to heat
- Heavy sweating
- Withholding drinking water on the day of racing
- If a horse is unable to sweat well (‘dry coated’)
The use of ambient temperature in degrees Celsius alone is not a reliable guide alone for assessing the safety of racing. To accurately assess the risk of physical exertion in hot weather conditions the Wet Globe Bulb Temperature
measurement has been developed and is widely used in human sports, the military and in equine sports.
The Wet Globe Bulb Temperature system measures ambient temperature, humidity and air movement (breeze) to calculate a safety index for physical exertion.
RV routinely measures the Wet Globe Bulb Temperature on racecourses on hot days and applies the following scientifically validated scale for assessing the safety of racing in hot weather conditions.
The use of the whip within Australian racing takes place within a regulatory framework contained within the Australian Rules of Racing which are set by the Australian Racing Board (ARB). The current regulations on the use of the whip were amended by the ARB effective December 1st 2015 and were updated after an extensive process of consultation.
Find more information about the updated rule change on the use of whips here.
Racing Victoria (RV) maintains an active interest in research in all areas of racehorse welfare, including the use of the whip, and continually reviews its position on the basis of scientific evidence and the experiences of other racing authorities worldwide.
RV acknowledges that the whip is an essential tool of the jockey for appropriate communication and discipline to ensure the safety of the jockey and other race participants. There is a great deal of observational evidence that the use of the whip for a very short period during a race has no significant adverse effect on horse safety and welfare. This evidence includes the fact that, under the current Rules of Racing and with the current design of jockeys’ whips, there is very rarely, if ever, evidence of tissue reaction or ongoing discomfort to the use of whip after racing.
RV also acknowledges community concerns about any type of perceived cruelty to horses and continues to conduct and encourage research in this area.
While RV is open to reviewing controls on the use of the whip, we are confident that the current use of the whip is not cruel.
The following policies and initiatives help to protect both the welfare of horses while ensuring the viability of the racing industry:
- Australian Rules of Racing (AR 137A) specifies acceptable use of the whip and provides for disciplinary action against rider who abuses horses.
- Post-race veterinary inspections of all runners are performed to ensure that no significant inflammatory response to the use of the whip is present after racing.
- Ongoing research into the design and effect of the whip and reviews of international practice.
- Education and training of jockeys in correct use of the whip and riding technique.
1. What is considered ‘End of Life’
Racing Victoria believes there is a home for every healthy thoroughbred and we are working with both the racing and equestrian industries to create even more prospects to re-home retired racehorses in Victoria. Our Off The Track program is dedicated to retired racehorses and promotes the thoroughbred, our re-trainers and the many after racing opportunities for off the track thoroughbreds.
If a horse is unsuitable for a useful future career, because of ill health, soundness problems or behavioural issues or cannot be provided with an acceptable level of care for whatever reason, it is in the best interests of all that these horses are humanely euthanized.
When euthanasia is the best alternative for a horse, it is extremely important that the procedure is performed efficiently, humanely and with no anticipatory stress. Euthanasia guidelines published by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) include the following guidelines that provide basic principles to assist in making humane decisions regarding euthanasia of horses:
A horse should not have to endure continuous or unmanageable pain from a condition that is chronic and incurable.
A horse should not have to endure a medical or surgical condition that has a hopeless chance of survival.
A horse should not have to remain alive if it has an unmanageable medical condition that renders it a hazard to itself or its handlers.
A horse should not have to receive continuous analgesic medication for the relief of pain for the rest of its life.
A horse should not have to endure a lifetime of continuous individual box stall confinement for prevention or relief of unmanageable pain or suffering.
An important decision-making factor is the quality of life that might be expected for an injured horse during its treatment and subsequent life. If misguided attempts to save an injured horse result in further pain and suffering with no realistic prospect of the horse having a good quality of life in the longer term, the welfare of the horse is compromised.
2. ‘End of life’ Planning
Responsible horse ownership also makes provision for the planning of “End of Life” management.
Owners should consider the best options for their horse when the time comes to make that decision. The decision to euthanize may come because of:
Incurable, progressive disease
Incurable, transmissible disease
Chronic severe lameness
Debilitation in old age
Severe traumatic injury
Dangerous behavioural traits
Undue financial burden of caring for a sick or incapacitated horse
Undue suffering for any reason
Euthanasia is often a highly emotional issue. Yet it is important to address the situation from a practical standpoint as well. Whether you are dealing with an emergency or a long-term illness, discuss the following questions with your veterinarian to help you decide what is right for your horse:
What is the likelihood of recovery or at least a return to pasture soundness or some level of usefulness?
Is the horse suffering?
How long will the horse experience the current level of pain or debility?
Does the horse continue to show an interest and desire to live, or has it become depressed or despondent?
What kind of special care will the horse require, and can you meet its needs?
Can you continue to provide for the horse financially?
What are your alternatives?
Decide when and where the procedure will be best carried out, bearing in mind that prior arrangement must be made for removal of the body. Choose what is most comfortable and practical for you, your veterinarian, and your horse.
If the horse is insured, notify the insurance company in advance so that there are no problems with claims. While the veterinarian will provide you with any required documentation, the rest (notification, filing, follow-up, etc.) is your responsibility.
There are currently 2 acceptable methods of Humane Euthanasia:
3. A Peaceful End
Rapid intravenous injection of concentrated barbiturates
Shooting by a licensed person, using a registered firearm.
As a caring owner, you want your horse to have a peaceful, painless end. Most commonly, euthanasia is achieved by injecting a barbiturate anaesthetic in a dose sufficient to shut down the horse's central nervous system. The drug renders the horse unconscious, the horse's heart stops, and the horse stops breathing. These drugs act quickly and effectively.
If you plan to be present when the lethal injection is given, keep in mind that not all horses respond in exactly the same way. Most horses simply drop and lay still, maybe taking one or two deep breaths before expiring. Some horses continue to take occasional breaths for a minute or more, and there may also be some movement of the limbs, even though the horse is deeply unconscious and may no longer have a heartbeat. Seeing these apparent signs of life can be upsetting for some owners. But remember that they do not indicate that the horse is conscious or has any sense of feeling; they are simply involuntary reflexes by the body in its final moments.
Some veterinarians and most knackeries prefer to use a rifle or pistol to perform euthanasia. Many owners recoil at the idea of this method of euthanasia because of the perception of violence often associated with the use of guns. However, when properly carried out, this method of euthanasia is instantaneous and is as humane as a euthanasia solution.
Steps to ensure a peaceful end:
The horse must be quietly handled prior to euthanasia to ensure it is not distressed or alarmed, a sedative may even be administered
Only a person experienced in equine euthanasia must perform the procedure
Arrangements for disposal of the carcass must be pre-arranged
Refer to The Code of Practice for the Welfare of Horses, DPI, and State Government of Victoria Brochure.
A plan for the transport of horses to a facility where euthanasia can be performed should ensure that the welfare of horses is the top priority. There should not be undue pain, stress, fear or distress caused by transporting the animal to a slaughterhouse or veterinary facility.
Injured horses should not be transported at all but a plan for euthanasia at home should be sought.
Dangerous horses should be handled and transported only if absolutely necessary and by experienced horsemen to minimise the risk of injury to humans and horse.