Education, Communication Can Improve Racehorse Safety

Education, Communication Can Improve Racehorse Safety

Educating trainers about the warning signs of catastrophic injury can help improve equine safety.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Educating trainers about the warning signs of catastrophic injury and having committees focus on racetrack safety are two ways safety can be improved at the racetrack. Presentations on continuing education programs for trainers and safety committees at racetracks rounded out a day of talks on equine safety Oct. 16 at the fourth Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

Indiana, for example, has adopted a rule, based on an Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) model rule, calling for trainers to demonstrate they have attended a four-hour education course within the past two years before receiving a license. Joe Gorajec, executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, said while regulators have received some backlash from horsemen, the rule is needed. He said Indiana will work with other states interested in adding such education requirements.

The Indiana seminars are conducted in the afternoons on dark racing days. Sessions are free, and presenters have offered information on veterinary topics, medication issues, testing issues, and topics involving workers and immigration issues. Gorajec said after some initial pushback, trainers have responded favorably.

"No group responds to voluntary educational opportunities," Gorajec said, noting that plenty of other professions require continuing education, including veterinarians. "This is the kind of material that really, all trainers need to see. Once they're in front of the material, they'll be engaged. We have to do our part and put them in front of the material."

Rick Arthur, DVM, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), said studies have shown that most horses who break down had previous conditions. He said that statistic spurred the CHRB to offer continuing education for trainers, who are well-positioned to notice minor injuries to their horses and prevent catastrophic injuries.

Arthur said one of the biggest challenges was finding times that trainers would be available for continuing education. That problem was solved by posting presentations on the Internet. An example of one of those presentations was presented at the welfare summit. In it, trainers are taught about warning signs for specific injuries.

In the example, the focus was on injuries to the scapula (shoulder blade). It discussed warning signs, symptoms, and times when horses are most susceptible to such injuries. Another presentation instructs on the use of bone scans to search for possible stress fractures.

Arthur noted that such continuing education was recommended at the first safety summit and that the RCI has passed a model rule calling for continuing education and testing of trainers.

While some trainers are receiving education on equine safety, racetracks and regulators are organizing committees to focus on equine and human safety. Such committees, which include track representatives, regulatory representation, stewards, jockeys, veterinarians, security directors, emergency directors, and others are now required in the accreditation process of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance.

At the summit, some ideas that have emerged out of the committees were presented. Those ideas included California's Golden Gate Fields reporting near-injuries by track employees to address potential hazards before a person is injured. Delaware Park has also worked to open lines of communication with a trauma center to improve preparation to treat jockey injuries.

Also discussed was Delaware's improved track warning system; post-mortem efforts at Turfway Park, located in Northern Kentucky, where jockeys and trainers are interviewed after a horse breaks down and the track follows up with regulatory officials on necropsy reports; Turfway's efforts to conduct drills to prepare for emergency situations; and Penn National's efforts to conduct necropsies following catastrophic breakdowns and meetings with trainers, jockeys, and vets connected with the horse involved.

About the Author

Frank Angst

Frank Angst is a staff writer for The Blood-Horse magazine. An American Horse Publications three-time winner in best news story category, Angst has covered horse racing for more than a decade. Angst spent ten years at Thoroughbred Times, where he earned awards as that magazine’s senior writer and helped launch Thoroughbred Times TODAY. Besides covering horse racing, Angst enjoys handicapping. Angst has written about sports for more than 20 years, including several seasons covering a nationally ranked Marshall Thundering Herd football team.

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