When the going gets tough on racehorse welfare

When the going gets tough on racehorse welfare

Every year in April, the focus of the public turns to the Grand National, but for horse racing consultant David Muir and our equine welfare team, it's the culmination of months of advising, monitoring and working to try to get every horse through the race unscathed.

It's safe to say that for them all, the race itself is one of the longest and most intense nine minutes to endure.

Improving racehorse welfare

Jockeys and race horses head-on during a race © Jeff Crow / iStockphoto.com

It's not just Aintree that they're focused on. David visits many other courses and high profile racing events every year, making recommendations to the management where necessary and monitoring the welfare of the horses.

Horse racing is a complicated issue that often divides animal lovers.

We're presented with a choice; to try to campaign from the outside to bring about the end of one of the UK's biggest spectator sports, or to work alongside the industry to do all we can to better the welfare of the racehorses and be involved in bringing about as much change as possible using our unique expertise.

We firmly believe that this is the best way for us to help the horses involved. David Muir said:

No horse death is ever justifiable; we do our utmost to be involved in preventing any fatalities.

How we've helped to change the racing industry

During the last 30 years we've been involved with discussions, research and reviews that have contributed to the following major changes in the racing industry:

  • Trials of new state of the art 'safety hurdles' for racecourses.
  • Run-out areas on courses that allow loose horses to leave the race safely and be caught.
  • Further investment into watering equipment that ensures a softer, safer racing surface, and encouraging jockeys to ride at a speed appropriate to the track conditions.
  • The continual review and if necessary, modification of fences to make them more inviting and forgiving to impact, with the removal of the solid fence cores.
  • The widening of the first fence at Aintree's Grand National, so the horses are less likely to bunch together and fall in the rush to get ahead.
  • The removal of many of the drops immediately after fences so that the horse doesn't land on a surface lower than where he took off, reducing the risk of falling.
  • Tighter race entry controls for horses and riders and the BHA can declare any horse unfit to race at any time.
  • Jockeys can no longer re-mount horses and continue the race if they've fallen.
  • Introduction of rubber walkways to prevent horses slipping and injuring themselves.
  • Improved, smoother surface on hurdles, virtually eradicating the risk of 'glove' injuries (painful tears to the skin of the horse's leg.)
  • Improved design of water jumps that now include non-slip liners and no lip on the landing area which can cause horses to trip.
  • The introduction of state of the art 'cool down areas' at major race courses where the horses' temperatures can be safely brought back to normal aiding their post-race recovery.
  • Research into the improvement of horse ambulances.
  • Continued and improved research into the proper use and welfare issues surrounding 'tongue ties' - a piece of tack fitted to the bridle designed to stop the horse's tongue from moving.

Jockeys play a vital role in making racing safer. Our racing consultant David Muir visits the Northern Racing College in Doncaster providing his own insightful course into welfare aspects of racing and demonstrating the work we in this area.

David's discussions include the ethics of when to decide to abandon a race and pull up a horse that is showing signs of tiredness.

These changes over the last few years are something we're proud of, and we want to reassure our supporters and all animal lovers that we'll never stop working to improve the welfare of race horses in this country.

About David Muir - our horse racing consultant

  • Based in Preston, Lancs
  • RSPCA racing consultant since 1998 (21 years)
  • Former officer-in-charge, Lancashire Constabulary Mounted Branch (17 years)
  • Former police officer (34 years)

David was chosen by our former racing consultant who was also one of our Superintendents, Bernard Donigan, to take on the role after his retirement.

David has maintained a robust but constructive dialogue with the racing industry for almost two decades and has been responsible for a number of vital and groundbreaking improvements to the welfare of race horses.

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