So we have meandered our way through the 2010 Jockey Club Welfare and Safety Summit, picking our way through the panels, unhurriedly observing what various elements of the racing industry think about the issues facing the sport.
And, finally, we arrive at the last panel, at which the members reported on their recommendations and goals.
Panelists took care to note that at this point, they have simply identified goals: how to implement, who will fund, next steps…all of that comes next, with, one can hope, progress to report in the next two years.
Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, observed that racing is a difficult industry to “start something in,” saying that starting new initiatives and following through on them isn’t easy. It’s important, he said, that the participants in the meetings not be complacent, and that they focus on successes and reportable outcomes. “We need to continue to challenge ourselves,” he said.
Dr. Rick Arthur talked about the lack of reciprocity among the racetracks regarding vet lists and other information. Informal relationships have been attempted, by working with InCompass and the Association of Race Tracks International; he suggested that a more formal structure be implemented, so that, for instance, a horse on the starter’s list in California can’t race in New York until it’s met the California requirements to be removed from the list. Racing needs, he said, to stop horses from “shopping jurisdictions.” His group will be looking at implementing such a structure.
The lists—veterinary, steward, starter—are public record in California, but they are, Arthur acknowledged, difficult to access. He also acknowledged that the way to get off the vet list in California might be different from the way a horse gets off the list in Louisiana, and that there are a number of mechanics that need to be worked out.
The committee on racetrack safety has plans to develop best practice documents for stable design, training practices, track maintenance, and security/disaster plans.
Arthur observed that racing is “traditionally opinion rich and fact poor,” and said that building a database of track maintenance, vet records, and other information isn’t going to be easy; it’s not going to happen overnight. When asked how privacy issues might affect owners’ and trainers’ decisions to share information, Arthur said that considering those issues and finding a way to work with them would be part of the process.
Another goal emerging from the summit is to look at claiming regulations to see how they could be designed to eliminate incentives that don’t consider the welfare of horse. Panelists acknowledged that it will be essential to get trainers involved in these decisions.
Another element of racing to be considered will be crop performance, specifically, why horses are making so few starts. The group mentioned doing a cohort study to correlate the rate of high intensity exercise to greater incidence of catastrophic injury.
Other initiatives emerging from the committee discussions were:
- Compiling a rider injury database, to help make decisions about rider safety policies. Again, questions about privacy and implementation were raised.
- Creating and implementing standards for safety equipment. Among items for consideration are a loose horse warning system, breakaway reins, and gate design and padding.
It was noted that it would be important to begin to track the success of newly implemented safety modifications. Panelists observed that racing would need to be mindful of and on the look-out for unintended consequences of any decisions made about new practices and policies.
How, it was asked, do track safety committees work on continuous improvement? Panelists suggested that a community of track executives, horsemen, and starters sit down at the end of each meet and discuss what worked and what needs work.
The committee that discussed the transition of racehorses to second careers will look at creating track liaisons, whose principal duties will include working to transition horses from the track to another career. The committee will also aim to create a publication of best practices for Thoroughbred retirement transition and make the information available to tracks.
Another suggestion from this committee was to create an accreditation program for horse rescues and organizations; organizations would be accredited on staffing, land use, and horse care/husbandry. This initiative would involve collaboration with the retirement groups themselves.
Continuing education and professional development is another area that the Summit panelists will examine, including the importance of putting into place continuing education programs for “front line workers,” those with the most direct contact with horses, such as grooms, hotwalkers, farriers, jockeys, and trainers. Essentially a credentialing program, it could be a part of the licensing process for those who work with horses. It was noted that such programs currently exist for racing officials.
A panelist noted the low turnout of representatives from the racing industry at the Summit, though it was pointed out that live video streaming was available to people who couldn’t attend. The importance of “buy-in” from racetracks on these initiatives was emphasized.
Having identified key issues, the individual working committees will now work on figuring out how to address them.
The Jockey Club press release on these recommendations can be found here. Other resources: