The global racing fraternity has been told it needs to “positively engage with both perception and reality and show real commitment to change to ensure positive welfare”.
In her keynote address at the 57th International Conference of Horseracing Authorities, Professor Natalie Waran presented key strategies for equine sports to proactively consider amidst changing societal expectations. This included increasing continuing education for anyone working hands-on with equine athletes to better their welfare.
“Our changing social values in relation to animals have affected different industries in different ways,” said Waran, who is Chair of the FEI’s Independent Commission for Equine Ethics and Wellbeing.
“It is important to recognise that society does not distinguish between different equestrian sports. There is enough data out there to show that the concerns around horse involvement in sport are rising. The racing world must positively engage with both perception and reality and show real commitment to change to ensure positive welfare.”
The focus of the conference, at the Saint-Cloud Racecourse in Paris, France, was on safeguarding equine welfare and exploring shifts in societal expectations as well as the sport’s response around the world. Delegates from more than 40 countries, and other racing executives and media members were in attendance.
The October 2 event was organised by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA). IFHA Chair Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said the conference was the continuation of “what has been a chief mission throughout the life of the Federation: equine welfare.”.
Engelbrecht-Bresges delivered the conference’s opening and closing remarks and noted that it provided an opportunity to focus and build upon the significant body of work over many years by IFHA members to protect equine athletes.
“I am energised by the many innovative ideas, initiatives and collaborations that we have heard about over the course of the conference. From birth, to training and racing, and onto retirement and aftercare, there is potential to both further enhance welfare at all stages of the Thoroughbred’s life and the general awareness of our standards,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
Broadcaster Nick Luck was the moderator for the Conference, and following Waran’s address, a panel of senior racing administrators including Lisa-Jane Graffard, General Secretary, Au-Delà des Pistes; Julie Harrington, Chief Executive, British Horseracing Authority (BHA); and Najja Thompson, Executive Director, New York Thoroughbred Breeders’ Inc. (NYTB), shared their approaches and strategies to shape the narratives surrounding equine welfare and racing.
After the panel discussion, Charles Scheeler, Chair of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) in the United States, gave an update on a review of the implementation of the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) program and future developments.
“HISA is working under the supervision of the Federal Trade Commission and in partnership with the members of the sport to transform horse racing,” Scheeler said. “The essence of this effort is the creation of an ecosystem of care surrounding horses. We remain excited about horse racing’s future in the United States, and we recognise that we have a rich legacy to protect.”
Another panel featured leaders from racing administration and veterinary science who explored protecting the sport’s equine athletes. Speakers included James Given, Director of Equine Regulation, Safety and Welfare, BHA; Josh Rubinstein, President, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club; Brian Stewart, Head of Veterinary Clinical Services, The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC); and Sonia Wittreck, Stud Book and Doping Control, Head of Department, France-Galop.
Stewart said that whilst serious racing injuries and deaths are “statistically very, very low, we must reduce them further”.
“The racing world has done so much over the past few decades to enhance racehorse welfare and to reduce the rate of injury, but there is still more to be done.
“Getting the balance right is part of training, but it is also something technology can help us with. Things are now coming together, and I am quite hopeful we might be able to make a significant difference.”
The importance of industry-wide education was highlighted throughout the conference, with the BHA’s Given saying that “we keep coming back to the word ‘educate’.” “There is importance in not just making it about technology and abdicating the responsibility of decisions to a computer. You have to have horsemanship. That’s not just the trainer, that’s the veterinarian as well.”
The final session of the conference looked in-depth at enhancing stakeholder engagement, specifically regarding public engagement and response in relation to equine welfare. Nevin Truesdale, the Chief Executive Officer of The Jockey Club (UK), began the session with a discussion of his organisation’s experiences with effective resolution and communication management.
“Having a clear set of messages as an industry, everyone singing off the same sheet, became really important for us in the lead-up and the aftermath of Epsom,” Truesdale said.
“We have to be relentless in continuing to make the sport safer and in telling that story. There is a persuadable audience, statistics show us that, but that will only work for us if we are clear on the changes we are making. Standing still on this is not optional.”
• Receive a notification when a new article is posted: