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EMHF - Our concern for horse welfare takes a myriad of forms

INDUSTRYWeb Master
OUR CONCERN FOR HORSE WELFARE TAKES A MYRIAD OF FORMS In the wake of the now infamous incident in which jockey Davy Russell was seen to strike his horse on the head prior to the start of a race, the marked difference between the media reaction in Ireland (more forgiving) and that in Britain (more damning) was commented upon. Just one example of the wide variation, as between European countries, in public opinion on horse welfare, and animal welfare more widely. In some regions, the ‘volume level’ of discussion of such matters is turned up high; not so in others. In a sport with no global Rules Book, it would be strange if these cultural differences were not reflected to some extent in the practices and regulations of individual Racing Authorities. And sure enough, they are. Indeed, what a country’s Rules of Racing says about its culture would make for a fascinating study. One could make a crude start by marking up, on a map of Europe, the number of whip strikes allowed in a race by the various countries. Very broadly, it would resemble a climatic map of the continent, with higher numbers accepted in the hotter south, reducing as one travels north until reaching the point of zero tolerance in Norway. Skim through the Rules Book in any of our countries and you will find a plethora which promote the welfare of our racehorses. In many cases, that aim is indeed their sole purpose. These Rules and procedures fall into many categories – from the horse-care component of the course which a trainer must pass in order to be granted a licence, to the requirement for a minimum number of vet’s to be present before a race meeting can take place, to enforced stand-down periods following the administration of certain veterinary interventions, to the mandatory abandonment of jump racing when the ground is designated ‘Hard’ – the list goes on and on. And while explanations and a rationale can often be found for a given country having adopted one particular policy over others, in many cases, this would seem to be the result merely of historical happenstance, without any burning underlying principle. I found it an interesting exercise taking a random selection of five European racing nations – Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Sweden - and comparing their Rules in a number of specific areas chosen by the German Direktorium’s Racing Director and EMHF Executive Council member, Rudiger Schmanns. For example, consider first their Rules relating to two-year-olds. Restrictions on the distances over which 2yo’s are asked to race are universal. But in Spain 2yo’s cannot reappear on the racetrack within five days of their last run and in Germany juveniles may not run more than 8 times and there is also a special whip that must be used – shorter than the normal crop, at <40cms. In Czech Republic, the same whip is used as in races for older horses, but a lower maximum number of strikes (4) applies. And in Sweden, the whip cannot be used at all on a 2yo, except for correction on the shoulder (a restriction which applies, unusually, to jump races, also). Let us turn to more general Rules, not limited to 2yo’s. While the need for a starting stalls test in advance of a horse’s debut outing is universal, Sweden goes further, requiring all horses to take part in a qualification race. When it comes to flu vaccinations, a high degree of commonality is evident, although Germany is an outlier in insisting on boosters being administered to its home-trained horses no more than nine months apart, as opposed to annually. In Sweden, a horse may not race within four days of a vaccination – in Germany and Czech Republic the moratorium is one week long. How quickly may horses turn out to race again? In Czech Republic or Germany, there must be at least one clear day between outings. In Sweden, two clear days are required. In Spain, no horse may be declared in a race until any race in which it has previously been declared has been run – which normally guarantees a gap of at least four days. And Jumpers in Germany must run no more than twice within any 12-day period. Germany is also unique amongst this group in setting an age limit for racehorses (15 years old). It also caps the number of times horses may race: a general limit of 25 times in the current year, plus, for jumpers only, a maximum of 10 outings for 3yo’s and of 12 outings within any 12-month period for older horses. Tubing is outlawed in all these countries except Ireland, where the only stipulation is that the operation cannot have been performed within a week of the horse running. All these Racing Authorities forbid the racing of pregnant mares beyond 120 days – but the Czech Rules go further: pregnant mares are not allowed to run at all. Ireland, Sweden and Spain ban horses which have been subject to a neurectomy. In Ireland and Spain, if a horse has received an intra-articular administration of a corticosteroid, it must be stood down for a fortnight. While in Germany, Sweden and Czech Republic, this applies to any intra-articular administration. Ireland extends this principle to such events as respiratory infection, coughing, illness, stress, injury – all attract a time period during which the horse cannot run. The German and Czech Rules require horses to be shod on all four feet; the Swedish also, but only for races on Turf. In Spain, for certified veterinary reasons, a horse may remain unshod behind. Ireland has no requirements as to which feet must be shod. All the countries other than Ireland have signed up to Article 32 of the International Agreement, which now prevents horses which have fallen to be re-mounted with the intention of continuing in the race. (An exception did apply in Czech Republic for the Velka Pardubicka, where the rider has been allowed to re-mount once only, but this is to be withdrawn). The EMHF recognises European trainers’ concerns at all the subtle differences in the Rules which confront them when they race internationally and it was a subject discussed at our Executive Council Meeting, as described below. But, while the inconsistency of approach is very evident, so, too, is the fact that never has concern for the health and welfare of the Thoroughbred been more central to the agenda of racing’s administrators. The racing world is on a journey and we share a direction of travel. There may be differences in how many times one can strike a horse, but every change in the Rules – and there have been many of late – has seen a reduction in this number, never an increase. Take Ireland as but one example of this sharpening focus. Here, plans are in train to develop a Horse Welfare Strategy, in conjunction with stakeholders, which will cover racehorse aftercare; to introduce a fatal injury post-mortem programme to identify accurately the injuries that are occurring and feed this information into an injury prevention programme; and to introduce assessment of horses by use of a ‘Racehorse Welfare Index’. And this heightened concern for welfare is being driven from the top. The EMHF’s parent body, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), has just made available to its member Racing Authorities around the globe a series of ‘Principles of Good Practice’ drawn up by its Horse Welfare Committee. These guidance documents fall under headings such as the monitoring of racing injuries and fatalities, activities to minimise injury and optimise horse welfare, veterinary emergency care procedures, the aftercare of racehorses and the use of the whip. Such concern need not be seen as wholly altruistic. At the individual level, a healthy racehorse will perform best for its connections; more generally, as the IFHA recognises “the health and welfare of racehorses, in all stages of life, (are) fundamental to the long-term viability of the sport.”   EMHF EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEET IN JERSEY Last year, Jonathan Perree, Stewards’ Secretary at the Channel Islands Racing and Hunt Club – a role akin to Racing Director in many racing jurisdictions - was elected onto the EMHF’s Executive Council, alongside representatives from Ireland, France, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Morocco, Sweden and Czech Republic. This year, the Channel Islands played host to our annual Executive Council Meeting, receiving delegates the day prior to ‘The Clarendon’, their August Bank Holiday fixture at the picturesque Les Landes racecourse, which stands on an elevated spot in the North-West corner of Jersey. The relationship between the weather on the island and the size of the crowd apparently traces a U-curve: too dismal, and people will stay indoors, but too glorious, and the lure of the beach often wins out.  All the more pleasing, then, that, on this most perfect of summer afternoons, the crowds did turn out in decent numbers. In addition to a hurdle race and three other flat events, they witnessed a strong weight-carrying performance in the £3,750 Clarendon Handicap from locally-trained Black Night, who effortlessly humped 10st 12lbs round the mile and a half trip, having previously been beaten just 8.5 lengths in a Deauville Group III. Black Night was expertly called home by regular Les Landes commentator, Mark Johnson, who engagingly bills himself as the ‘voice of the Jersey, Kentucky and Epsom Derby’. From how many tracks around the world, I mused, can racegoers gaze out over several islands (including Guernsey, Herm and Sark) and indeed to another country (the French mainland is but a few kilometres distant)? Not only that…but Marilyn Monroe turned up as well. The Executive Council Meeting the next day covered much ground, from new applications for membership to commitments to good governance – on all of which, more in a future edition. Rarely these days does a meeting go by without the ‘B word’, and Brexit once again featured in Jersey. It has been heartening how the whole of the European and Mediterranean racing community has come together to insist that there must be no diminution of the levels of movement we all currently enjoy when travelling Thoroughbreds to, from or through the UK – as happens tens of thousands of times each year. Ease of movement throughout Europe is largely taken for granted – no veterinary inspections, no customs papers, no border delays – and the profound disruption which a ‘hard Brexit’ could bring would ripple across the whole Continent. The EMHF, national administrators and breeders are on the case. Among the outcomes from the meeting was a commitment on the subject discussed above – the Rules of Racing. I have been aware that this is a matter close to the hearts of European trainers since attending the European Trainers’ Federation’s General Assembly the year before last, when the call was made for consistency. More recently, the subject has been raised with key European regulators by the ETF’s Chairman, Guy Heymans, who has selected a number of  practical areas which can cause trainers confusion when sending a horse abroad, such as the country’s entry and declaration regime, rules on headgear, starting stalls procedures, parades, doping control practices and shoeing restrictions.   In Jersey, the Executive Council agreed that the EMHF should look to establish a Rules Committee, as its second Standing Committee alongside its European Union Committee.   There is, of course, broad – probably universal - support for harmonisation of racing’s Rules. But while that call is easily made, selecting the one specific policy on which to harmonise, from amongst the different approaches adopted in the various European countries, is more challenging. Here, the European Trainers’ Federation can play a useful role. Should the ETF come forward in favour of the way a Rule has been drawn up in a particular country or countries, perhaps on the grounds that, in trainers’ professional view, that is best for the smooth running of the race or for the horses’ welfare, then this would be a powerful message from a key stakeholder group which should carry weight with Racing Authorities.   It is important to realise that each country’s Racing Authority is autonomous – the EMHF can encourage, but not dictate. Where differences in the Rules remain, it is important that trainers and others racing internationally within Europe have access to as clear a picture as possible of the Rules that apply in the jurisdictions they visit. The information should be easily found and clearly understood. And, while it works towards achieving the nirvana of identical Rules, this is an important ‘second prize’ for a Rules Committee to pursue.   EUROPEAN BEACH RACING ASSOCIATION: OFF AND RUNNING AT PLESTIN-LES-GREVES The beautiful Breton bay at Plestin-les-Greves provided the backdrop for a magical day’s racing when representatives of six of Europe’s seven beach racetracks gathered together for the first time. A personal highlight was the opportunity to track the runners, at a distance of but a few feet, in a customised minibus, with a row of seats set laterally for optimum viewing, la Manche glistening behind. The impression was rather like those sequences now common in wildlife documentaries, where the camera flies alongside the geese! I have been fortunate enough to have raced in nearly 30 countries around the world, but this experience was one I will not forget. Many of the delegates were meeting each other for the first time, and much of the discussion at the following day’s inaugural meeting of the European Beach Racing Association, held in the Tourist Office at the centre of the little town, was devoted to exchanging views and experiences of running – to rigorous standards - pop-up race-meetings on strands of sand. The occasion generated considerable interest from touristic and municipal authorities in this region of Brittany. Already significant to the local economy, there was general recognition that, were beach racing to be better branded, and a recognisable European beach racing circuit and season more widely identified, great benefit could derive to the businesses surrounding each of the seven tracks.  

Paull Khan - News from the EMHF

 
 

Gallery

In the wake of the now infamous incident in which jockey Davy Russell was seen to strike his horse on the head prior to the start of a race, the marked difference between the media reaction in Ireland (more forgiving) and that in Britain (more damning) was commented upon.

Just one example of the wide variation, as between European countries, in public opinion on horse welfare, and animal welfare more widely. In some regions, the ‘volume level’ of discussion of such matters is turned up high; not so in others.

In a sport with no global Rules Book, it would be strange if these cultural differences were not reflected to some extent in the practices and regulations of individual Racing Authorities. And sure enough, they are. Indeed, what a country’s Rules of Racing says about its culture would make for a fascinating study. One could make a crude start by marking up, on a map of Europe, the number of whip strikes allowed in a race by the various countries. Very broadly, it would resemble a climatic map of the continent, with higher numbers accepted in the hotter south, reducing as one travels north until reaching the point of zero tolerance in Norway.

Skim through the Rules Book in any of our countries and you will find a plethora which promote the welfare of our racehorses. In many cases, that aim is indeed their sole purpose. These Rules and procedures fall into many categories – from the horse-care component of the course which a trainer must pass in order to be granted a licence, to the requirement for a minimum number of vet’s to be present before a race meeting can take place, to enforced stand-down periods following the administration of certain veterinary interventions, to the mandatory abandonment of jump racing when the ground is designated ‘Hard’ – the list goes on and on.

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