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21 February 2020

“A life well-lived” – British racing’s Horse Welfare Board publishes five-year welfare strategy

British horseracing’s Horse Welfare Board, which is independently chaired, has published its five-year strategic plan for the welfare of horses bred for racing.

The five-year plan focuses on vision that “Respect for the horse is at the heart of everything we do: Every horse bred for racing will enjoy a life well lived”

  • Innovative project to measure horses’ quality of life and wellbeing
  • Unprecedented use of data to prevent injury and manage safety 
  • Commitment to lifetime responsibility, based on plan to trace every racehorse from birth

The strategy focuses on the ambition that every horse bred to race should lead – and be seen to lead – “a life well-lived”. The strategy includes traceability for horses bred for the sport, a strong focus on safety and wellbeing, a more confident and proactive approach to communications and the industry’s biggest ever data project.

A summary of the recommendations and key projects can be found here:

The strategy also identifies the value of data in informing veterinary care and the prevention of injury and illness. It articulates the ethical case for horses’ participation in sport and leisure and the need for better use of high-impact communications to tell racing’s story. It also commits to develop a Code of Ethics to provide a transparent framework for decision-making around all aspects of a racehorse’s care and wellbeing. 

The Horse Welfare Board includes equal representation from the sport’s tripartite structure of horsemen, racecourses and the BHA. Its independent chair, Barry Johnson, is a former Chairman of World Horse Welfare and President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Former Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch MP, is the other independent member. The development of the strategy was supported by funding from the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) and the Racing Foundation.

“The horse is at the core of the Horse Welfare Board’s philosophy, and our vision is one the industry should be inspired to attain. It ensures that, during the whole lifetime of the horse, all facets of its welfare are scrutinised, understood and, where possible, improved.

 “Standards of care are already extraordinarily high, and the vast majority of racehorses undoubtedly lead a life well lived, but we want to be able to identify and further promote those factors that lead to the best possible quality of life for all thoroughbreds.

“We firmly believe that horses that are trained to take part in sport develop a real purpose that brings significant benefits to their wellbeing, not to mention those who care for them or ride them. Our goal is to measure these benefits where we can and communicate this better to a public that is often unfamiliar with horses,” said Barry Johnson.

As part of the recommendations, the Board was asked to look at the rules governing the use of the padded whip in racing and the penalties for misuse.

The Horse Welfare Board considered information and data from a number of areas, including statistical data on misuse, rules and penalties in other racing nations, current scientific research, social, political and ethical considerations and analysis of recent consumer and industry surveys.

The rules were introduced in 2012 and continue to be endorsed by the government. However, the Board believes there is a case for change and recommends that a minimum requirement is an increase in penalties for rule breaches.

It has first recommended that the BHA conduct a consultation seeking views from the industry and the wider public on a range of issues, including penalties and what should be classed as allowable use, mindful of the role that carrying a racing whip plays in ensuring the safety of horse and rider.

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