Welfare strategy hailed as a privotal moment for British racing

© British Horseracing Authority

Lifetime traceability of Thoroughbreds is a key element proposed in a wide-ranging horse-welfare strategy for the British racing industry.

The Horse Welfare Board, in its report entitled A Life Well Lived, lays out a new strategic plan over the next five years for the welfare of horses bred for racing in Britain.

Its proposal for collective lifetime responsibility envisions traceability across the lifetime of each horse bred for racing, and initiatives fostering greater understanding, encouragement and effective enforcement of responsibility.

The board says the push for lifetime responsibility will be a step-change in horse racing, and greater alignment will be needed across the industry.

“While responsibility for horses is high in many areas, when looking across a horse’s lifetime there are significant gaps in information and accountability,” the board says.

Responsibilities, it says, must be clarified, particularly:

  • The responsibilities of owners, in relation to horses at the end of their racing careers;
  • Responsible breeding, as lifetime duty of care starts with the decision to breed a Thoroughbred in the first place, with a need for sustainable and responsible production.
  • The responsibilities of sales houses, pre-training yards and rehoming centres.

“Traceability,” it says, “is a vital first step in achieving this outcome. We need the fullest possible traceability of horses bred for racing, throughout their lifetimes.

“While we acknowledge that traceability could highlight challenging issues, we feel that, as a responsible industry, which takes a positive approach to the management of risk, racing must be appropriately proactive on this.”

In particular, there are significant gaps in the industry’s knowledge of the whereabouts of Thoroughbreds bred for racing.

It noted that concerns had been raised over traceability, and the possibility that previously unknown welfare and reputational issues may emerge.

“As a responsible industry, we must be prepared to take responsibility and to be proactive in tackling any issues that may emerge.”

Ultimately, it says, the industry needs to ensure that any welfare cases are rare exceptions, and be able to demonstrate this, with evidence of positive outcomes in the overwhelming majority of cases.

“Gaps in traceability data and information should be filled, with the industry focusing on removal of barriers to improved traceability, including commercial barriers, and/or the development of incentives.”

The authors say euthanasia is an important part of the welfare mix when used responsibly, ethically and in the best interests of the animal.

“This is not always fully understood, particularly amongst public audiences. While euthanasia codes exist in parts of the industry, we recommend the development of a single code of practice, with a clear decision process or decision tree, that is adopted and clearly communicated by the whole industry.”

The 130-page report contains 20 central recommendations and proposes 26 projects aimed at furthering horse welfare. The recommendations cover — along with lifetime responsibility — quality of life, safety, and growth and maintenance of trust in the industry. It also called for consultation around the use of the whip to make a horse run faster.

The proposals centre around standards and benchmarking, better data, safety improvements at racecourses, a review of current policies and practices, training and education, and communication.

BHA welcomes report

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) said it welcomed the report, describing it as a pivotal moment for the sport to maintain public trust.

The strategy was commissioned and approved by industry-wide stakeholders.

The BHA says while it will be responsible for some of the recommendations, the whole industry will have a part to play. The strategy calls for unity and for the whole sport to take responsibility for its delivery.

It says it is committed to drawing up an implementation plan which will prioritise, fund and resource the various projects involved which relate to the sport’s regulatory and governing body.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust says he is proud of the work already done by the sport to give horses the best possible quality of life.

“Our sport’s record in making racing safer for horses and jockeys is the result of many people working together for a common purpose.

“When I saw the scale of the Welfare Board’s ambition, I was even more proud. Racing people want the very best for our horses. We would love more people outside our sport to understand just how much we put into keeping horses safe and allowing them to enjoy the quality of life that goes with being an equine athlete.

“I know our sport has been frustrated at times because it feels not enough has been done to speak up for racing. I firmly believe that the strategy gives us a platform to talk about all the good things we do with pride and confidence. That is why it is a pivotal moment, an opportunity to show that we can be trusted to do the right thing for our horses.”

Rust said horses have a special place in British life, with racing holding a special place in the nation’s tradition and culture.

“We celebrate our horses as champions and partners. We look after the safety of our jockeys and horses.”

The BHA Board has accepted all the recommendations from the Horse Welfare Board, including a consultation on the rules and penalties for misuse of a whip when riding and an increase in penalties as a minimum.

The BHA supports the Welfare Board’s view that the scale of the task of educating all of racing’s existing, potential and future customers means that it is not feasible to simply persuade the public to accept the current position.

Whip use under scrutiny

Consultation will be wide-ranging and cover topics such as penalties for whip offences, and what defines acceptable use. The BHA will not support any particular outcome during the consultation, beyond the requested increase in penalties.

The consultation will be open, allowing all interested parties to express a view, in line with the approach taken by government and other regulators. All opinions will be taken into account.

The BHA aims to meet the Welfare Board’s request that changes be in place by October this year.

The BHA’s chief regulatory officer, Brant Dunshea, will lead the consultation process. He said: “This is a wide-ranging debate covering a number of different elements about how the whip is used.

“None of us wants the way we use the whip to be an issue of public or political concern so we’d like an outcome that is safe, fair, understood and accepted.

“We don’t want to have to return to this issue, and would prefer to focus on the rest of the welfare programme and ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future for our sport.”

Dunshea says the Welfare Board has recognised that openness and transparency play an important part in building public trust.

“With that in mind … this will be an open consultation in which all views can be taken into account. However, it is not simply a vote. Any decisions are for racing to take.”

The chairwoman of the BHA, Annamarie Phelps, described the publication of the report as a landmark moment for the sport.

“The scope of the ambition set out by the Horse Welfare Board was daunting at first glance. But it’s based on the strongest of foundations – the pride, passion and dedication of the thousands of people who work in the racing industry.”

Racecourse Association chairwoman Maggie Carver said the Welfare Board had produced a thorough, comprehensive, evidence‐based report.

“That evidence shows that there are areas where we can strive to do better and that there is an urgent need to respond to changes in society in order to keep racing popular.

“It is now up to all of us to respond with positive plans for improvement and change, not just in the short‐term but sustainably over the years ahead.”

Racehorse Owners Association president Nicholas Cooper said the strategy proposed by the board is of huge importance and significance for the racing industry.

“We hope that the entire sport will get behind it and support the strategy, and play their part in its implementation.”

Charity: Watershed moment for racing

The charity World Horse Welfare described the report as a watershed moment for British racing.

It proposed the first truly integrated approach to equine welfare across the industry, while also clearly recognising the importance of public perception and its relevance to the future of racing.

“We welcome the focus on not just the care of horses but their quality of life and basing decisions on rigorous evidence,” the charity’s chief executive, Roly Owers, said.

“The board has been thorough in its rationale and sound in its recommendations, and whilst it doesn’t provide a detailed framework it certainly does set out a clear direction of travel that everyone within racing needs to embrace and be seen to be doing so.”

The BHA was explicitly asked to consider the use of the whip, and its strategy recommends that tougher penalties be imposed on inappropriate whip use, as well as an open consultation on its use for encouraging a horse to run faster.

Owers said this was a debate the charity had called for over several years, querying whether its use for encouragement, rather than safety, can be ethically justified.

The Horse Welfare Board also acknowledges that making an ethical case for the use of the whip for encouragement was “challenging”.

“Any penalty system has to bring about real behaviour change if it is to have any effect, something that we do not believe is the case at the moment, so we welcome decisive change here.

“We strongly encourage all involved with racing and the general public to take part in the forthcoming consultation on the use of the whip for encouragement.

“While the whip is not the most significant welfare issue, it certainly can be a welfare issue. For racing to have the acceptance of the public, and so maintain its social license to operate, it must reflect the values of the society whilst also constantly challenging the standards of equine welfare within the industry.”

The board said that an important cornerstone of the strategy was to work in partnership with those outside the sport who share a commitment to the practical care and well-being of horses.

“Without doubt there are going to some challenging days ahead but World Horse Welfare will support British racing to implement the board’s recommendations, which have the potential both to create a bright future for the sport and enhance the wellbeing of the thousands of racehorses involved,” Owers said.

The Horse Welfare Board is independently chaired by Barry Johnson, a former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It includes representatives from across the industry, alongside the former sports minister Tracey Crouch.

The full 130-page report can be read here.



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2 thoughts on “Welfare strategy hailed as a privotal moment for British racing

  • February 21, 2020 at 4:55 pm

    If only Australian administrators were as committed! In 2016, a group of international researchers released a white paper on track surfaces. In describing what they referred to as “shallow sand tracks” they stated the minimum depth of the cushion layer be 3.5 inches or 8.89 cm’s {note not the total sand depth but just the cushion layer as they warned of the hardness of the sand layer under the teeth of the harrow}. Racing Victoria has a sand layer minimum of just 6 cm’s, barely two thirds the researchers standard. That in itself is a worry but of more concern, Mornington Race course sand training track rarely reaches that depth with it varying from 3-5 cm’s on a regular basis. After continually seeing my horse pulling up distressed after working on this track, I have contacted Racing Victoria over a two year period and my pleas have been completely ignored without even a discussion about the welfare of the over 400 horses that work on this track. It is a very poor indictment on administrators who claim to have equine welfare as their highest priority and encourage participant engagement.

    • February 26, 2020 at 6:47 am

      This is about as comprehensively prepared document, in modern times, that I have read and is a tribune to its authors. My main critique of it is in the determination of “public” and the public’s acceptance of the sport of horse racing. We, in the industry tend to extrapolate the like or dislike quotient of an element of the sport(whips) rather than coming to a conclusion based on the success with attendance and wagering on our premium events (group events) rather than a random opinion of the subject. By doing a better job of marketing the sport, its history, its competition and skills of its contestants we can educate the substance and grandeur of the sport rather than dismantle its components to please ignorance! I agree that whip use must be managed within reason but to remove it from the game will change the results of pedigree, distance and history!


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