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Equine Welfare 101

Making equine welfare a priority

Horseracing is a multi-billion dollar segment of the worldwide gaming industry.  Among all of the gaming and entertainment options, the horse is what makes our industry unique. The horse distinguishes racing from the casino, lottery and all other gaming platforms.  Because the horse is the foundation of the horseracing industry, and because there is risk associated with high-speed exercise, stewardship of the horse is a high priority for all those who participate in racing. An infallible standard for all those who participate in horse racing is the welfare of the horse. To the extent that we dedicate our efforts to equine welfare, the racing industry as a whole will benefit.

In recent years equine welfare has evolved as a cornerstone of the culture of horse racing. The Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the Association of Racing Commissioners International, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, national horseman’s associations and others have been actively seeking ways to reduce injuries of horses and riders, and to improve the integrity of the sport.
The scope of equine welfare extends beyond the horse’s racing career. Equine retraining and re-homing efforts for retired racehorses have become commonplace throughout North America. Horse owners should support these efforts and take personal responsibility for the horses in their stable. Horse owners provide essential leadership in this effort by ensuring that race horses be retired while they are still sound enough to successfully pursue an alternative athletic career.
The use of medication in racing is an important and controversial welfare issue. How do we define the appropriate use of medication?  What is the responsibility of the owner, trainer and veterinarian in the use of medication? It is critical for all 3 members of the owner-trainer-veterinarian team to share the same philosophy with regard to medication.
Medication administration should be determined by the medical needs of the horse, not the entry date for a race. The appropriate use of medication requires a medical diagnosis, therapy to treat a specific condition and an appropriate evaluation following treatment to determine suitability of the horse to race. The question of fitness to race should be answered prior to entry, not on the racetrack at 30 mph in the company of other horses and riders.
The veterinarian must be an unconditional advocate for the horse. Advances in veterinary science have expanded the role of veterinarians as “sports medicine doctors” for horses. The Veterinarian’s Oath requires that veterinarians make all medical decisions with the horse’s welfare uppermost in mind. The goal of all members of a racing team is to win races.  A healthy and sound horse provides the very best chance to do so.