Good news for racehorse welfare, safety and futures from Australia to England (and in between)

First, the good news–but, then again, it’s all good news today. Equine research, safety and welfare are in the news for precisely the right reasons: The people willing to roll up their sleeves to help are in the news by doing something about making a racing world a better place to be a horse.

The big headline of the week, so far, is from Australia, where the government of the state of Victoria, along with Racing Victoria and the University of Melbourne, have announced a $5 million (Australian or about $3.8 million US) fund to research better training management of racehorses there. The goal: reduce the number of training injuries and minimize limb fractures.

The Equine Limb Injury Prevention Research Program initiative will seek to better identify horses that may be at risk of serious bone injury.

Three areas of research will be:

  • how bones of horses respond to extended exercise
  • why some bones fail under repeated stress
  • how bones may be helped to adapt to stressors and repair accumulated damage.

The research will be used to develop management plans for trainers and the racing industry, including guidelines for the intensity and duration of training as well as the frequency of rest periods.

The University of Melbourne, which will contribute $1.4 Million (Australian dollars) to the plan, said that the initiative will involve a collaboration between veterinarians, biomechanical engineers, epidemiologists and bone biology researchers.

The research will be an extension of studies already begun there by Associate Professor Chris Whitton, PhD, FACVSc, BVSC, an equine practitioner who has already been investigating bone injury and fractures in horses. According to the university, the research will:

  •  Examine pressure and loads in the lower limbs;
  • Investigate the processes surrounding bone fatigue;
  • Seek to understand bone modeling and re-modeling in horses both in training and at rest;
  • Analyze how distances and speeds affect bone fatigue; and
  • Collect data on horse injuries.

According to Whitton in a lecture recorded last year, about 20 horses a year die from catastrophic racing injuries in the state of Victoria. Overall, racing in Australia has a death rate of about 1 horse for every 2,072 starts, he said. When the deaths were analyzed, 70 percent were found to be related to limb injury and 63 percent were specifically related to bone fatigue.

Professor Whitton said the funds will go towards equipment and post-doctoral research projects.

Listen to a presentation by Professor Whitton on bone injuries in Thoroughbred racehorses: