01 Apr 2014 Welfare

Aintree, BHA, Horsecomesfirst Logos

The welfare of the sport’s equine and human participants is paramount to British Horseracing and remains the over-riding priority for all those involved with the staging of the Grand National meeting.

  • All racehorses trained in Britain are stabled at premises licensed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). The industry employs over 6,000 people to provide first class care and attention for the 14,000 horses in training at any one time.
  • The standards demanded by BHA of all licensed participants, including jockeys and trainers, far exceed those prescribed by animal welfare legislation. Together with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, BHA is a leading signatory of the National Equine Welfare Protocol.
  • Similarly, BHA licenses every racecourse, setting standards for the racing surface and all parts of the course used by competitors, both human and equine. None of the 1,400 plus fixtures held annually in Britain can take place unless key welfare criteria have been satisfied.
  • Aintree Racecourse and BHA work in conjunction to ensure that the highest standards are met. Aintree employs nine veterinary surgeons, whose sole responsibility it is to provide care to the horses throughout their time at the racecourse.

In the event of an incident on the racecourse:

  • Any horse affected will receive immediate attention and treatment from racecourse vets.
  • Qualified paramedics and doctors are also on hand in the case of any incident involving a jockey.
  • If necessary, horses and riders will be transported from the course to receive further treatment at the most appropriate equine hospital or Accident & Emergency hospital.

“It must be remembered Britain has the best equine vets in the world, and the BHA’s teams of vets on racecourses are fantastic, totally committed. I’ve found the BHA to be transparent in everything I request of them.” David Muir, RSPCA Equine Consultant.

Despite the best efforts of all involved, as with participation in any sport involving speed and athleticism, there remains an inherent risk of injury. British Racing is open and transparent about the risks involved in the sport – the BHA Veterinary team monitors injury rates at every licensed racecourse. Over the last 15 years the equine fatality rate has fallen by one third to 0.2% of all runners.

British Racing recognises it has a duty of care to its equine participants and since 2000 the industry has invested, through the Horserace Betting Levy Board, over £25m in veterinary activities, including research and education, this brings benefits not only to Thoroughbreds but the entire British equine population.

However, despite all the measures taken horses remain at risk of serious injury throughout their lives, regardless of the type of equestrian activity they participate in, even when turned out in a field, exercising at home or doing what they were bred to do, namely racing on the track.

The Grand National course

The safety of all participants is Aintree Racecourse’s number one priority. More than £1.5 million has been invested in safety and welfare measures since 2009.

Applying an evidence based approach, Aintree, together with BHA, have left no stone unturned in seeking to reduce risk to both horse and rider whilst maintaining the Grand National’s unique character.

Modifications for the 2013 running included:

  • Replacing the previous timber central frame, or core, of all fences with more forgiving plastic birch and natural birch. This followed a research programme instigated by Aintree and BHA in 2011. The dimensions of all fences remain unchanged, as does their appearance.
  • Moving the start 90 yards forward away from the stands, the objective being to create a calmer and more controlled environment at the start for both horse and rider.
  • Further investment in the racing surface with £400,000 spent on enhancing Aintree’s watering system to ensure the safest possible jumping ground possible.
  • Levelling the landing side of some fences, including at Becher’s Brook.

These modifications built on the range of measures introduced following the comprehensive 2011 Review, which, among other items, led to the introduction of stricter qualification criteria for horses and jockeys and an air-cooled wash down area for horses post-race.

The evidence shows that races over the Grand National course are becoming safer, reflecting the measures that have been implemented to raise welfare standards. In races run over the Grand National course, including the Grand National itself, the average injury and fatality rate over the last 10 years has decreased compared to that over the last 20 years.

Aintree, in consultation with BHA, will continue to adopt an evidence based approach to any proposals for further change. For example, one area examined carefully and not changed, is the maximum field size of 40 runners in the Grand National. Reviews have provided no evidence to suggest that a reduced field size would reduce the risk of injury to horse or rider.

Equally, maintaining the current height and dimensions of the fences is considered important in order to deter increased speed.