Welfare and aftercare initiatives shared at 37th Asian Racing Conference


Equine welfare and worldwide aftercare initiatives were in the spotlight for the ninth plenary session of the 37th Asian Racing Conference in Seoul highlighted the current developments around this important issue.

Following the recent conference of the International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses (IFAR), Jim Gagliano, President of the U.S. Jockey Club, presented the strategic goals and future plans of the organisation. He also provided delegates with an overview of the Man O’ War project, recently launched in the U.S.

“IFAR was created as an independent forum to enhance thoroughbred aftercare and helps increase worldwide demand for former racehorses in other equestrian sports. Over the next few years, IFAR plans to develop into a world leader on aftercare strategy. We hope to have all racing jurisdictions sign an aftercare code of practice and develop traceability systems to track all racehorses.

“Considering the immediate access to global news via the internet and social media, how our sport is perceived and how we treat the thoroughbred athletes who are the lifeblood of our sport is more important than ever,” explained Mr Gagliano. “In the U.S., we have focused on thoroughbred aftercare for many years, but we still have much to learn from other countries, and I am glad that IFAR enables us to share best practices.”

Mr Gagliano went on to brief the delegates on the various projects The Jockey Club have undertaken or funded, including the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the Thoroughbred Incentive program, The Jockey Club’s Checkoff program and Thoroughbred Connect, a free microchip and tattoo lookup service. The Man O’ War Project is the latest initiative supported by The Jockey Club.

“Although anecdotal evidence suggests that equine-assisted therapy benefits people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there has never been any clinical evidence to substantiate it. The Man O’ War Project is a university-led research trial to determine the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy and to establish guidelines for the application of equine-assisted therapy for veterans with PTSD. Many people believe thoroughbreds are ideal candidates for therapy programs, and these programs are the perfect second career for many of our retired equine athletes”, said Mr Gagliano, “therefore we look forward to the results of the research.”

The session was led by Frances Nelson QC, Chair, Racing Australia, who provided an interesting insight into Racing Australia’s 2016 reforms, which comprised improved welfare outcomes from early foal registrations to a comprehensive traceability program.

“The Australian thoroughbred racing industry generates in excess of $8.3 billion in economic value and the horse is integral to the industry. Racing must communicate our values and welfare practices to the wider community. Racing Australia has been working for some time on furthering welfare issues to do just this. Under the new rules, the reason for retirement, as well as plans for the horse beyond its racing career must be supplied upon retirement. Racehorses must be retired at the age of 12 years and this is enforced,” Ms Nelson explained.

“The implementation of these policies have helped us to improve industry integrity, deepened knowledge of the industry, given us facts and figures to assist industry communications and demonstrated the responsibility and transparency of the industry,” she concluded.

Sam Franklin, Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide briefed delegates on the role technological advances can play in enhancing equine welfare. On-board heart rate monitors, GPS systems, accelerometers, temperature pills, oxygen sensors and portable endoscopy systems have all contributed in providing information that could help improve performance, avoid fatigue and other health issues.

According to Associate Professor Franklin the question to address is whether equine performance can be improved while minimising injury rates. “Over the past 60 years there has been no marked improvement in thoroughbred race times. While equine exercise physiology is a relatively young discipline, many of the technologies used in human sports science are now being applied to horses, especially the monitoring of training status as well as the monitoring of the health status of the horse.

“There is a wide range of technologies that are now available to assist in the training and monitoring of horses, but it is essential that these technologies must be scientifically evaluated and that data ownership and storage is considered,” Prof Franklin concluded.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club has a longstanding welfare program and Dr Peter Curl, Executive Manager of Veterinary Regulation, outlined the Club’s equine welfare approach. “Enhancing the quality of life, welfare, safety and durability of racehorses, is critical to ensuring the popularity and sustainability of racing into the future.

“It is a fact that racehorses are provided with a very high standard of husbandry and veterinary care, as this is a fundamental requirement for optimal athletic performance. However, society is in the midst of a major revolution regarding how animals are viewed and how they should be treated in the course of human use. Thus, rapidly changing societal values have resulted in horse welfare becoming a critical, even existential, issue for racing authorities. While social media and the internet has provided animal activism with an instantaneous, far-reaching and essentially cost-free platform.

“The Hong Kong Jockey Club currently has a well-coordinated welfare strategy consisting of dedicated welfare positions, welfare advisory panels, the identification of 'best practices', an equine research fund, communication strategies, education programs and aftercare initiatives,” he explained.

Dr Curl concluded with a telling reminder for all assembled: “What is good for the horse is good for racing.”

Ms Amanda Bond, the HKJC’s Executive Manager, Equestrian Affairs, detailed how Hong Kong racehorses are retrained to have a meaningful second career in the equestrian world. “Roughly 400-450 horses leave Hong Kong racing every year. Owners pay a subsidy when they import a horse to Hong Kong, and on retirement, owners have two choices, they can either export their horses, in which case the subsidy is returned to them to cover the export costs or they can donate them to the Club, in which case the subsidy is used to support the retraining program.”

Ms Bond explained that the subsidy, currently at HK$60,000, is rising to HK$80,000 for imports in the 2018/19 season.

“These horses are then moved to the Club’s Beas River facility where the horses are assessed by a vet for physical and temperamental suitability. After retraining there are a variety of options available for these horses, such as the lead horse team, livery, the riding school, stable lead, apprentice jockey school, competition pool or overseas export.”

The session concluded with Dr Kyungwon Park, Chief Manager of Veterinary Regulations at the KRA Equine Hospital presenting new strategies for the promotion of horse welfare in Korea. A 2017 survey indicated that there are 27,210 horses and 619 donkeys and mules in Korea.

“Korea’s animal protection act does not include any special considerations for the horse. The general wellbeing of horses in Korea is somewhat elevated above other animals in that they have passports, names, have access to veterinary care and are in good training and care programs, but ‘generally good’ is not good enough,” he said.

In 2017 the KRA initiated the Horse Welfare Level-Up project – with the motto: - “Make a happy world for both human and horses.”

Strategic plans include the strengthening of the owner’s responsibility, the improvement of racing regulations, the upgrading of equine medical services and the reform animal insurances. The project also includes the setting up of a horse welfare committee and the monitoring of abuse. Last but certainly not least, according to Dr Park, is education and communication, both locally and internationally.

Dr Park concluded with his own version of a well-known quote: “this is one small step for man, one giant leap for horse.”

Issued on behalf of the Asian Racing Federation