Strides Toward Safer Hunt Racing

Hunt races have thrilled spectators for years, but the competitors are subject to falls. Aintree and Cheltenham, the largest national hunt racecourses in the United Kingdom, are funding research at the University of Liverpool for the next two years to try and reduce horse injuries and fatalities in hunt racing.

"We were approached by Cheltenham and Aintree racecourses to investigate the factors leading to horses falling," says Chris Proudman, Vet MB, PhD, Cert EO, FRCVS, who is involved with the study. "If we understand (the factors), the industry can make rational changes to minimize the risk of injury without losing the spectacle that attracts racegoers."

Proudman is one of a team of five vets that does racecourse work during the three-day festival of racing at Aintree in the spring. There were five fatalities at the meet this spring, although none were during the Grand National. Four of the fatalities suffered spinal fractures from falls, and one horse had an aneurysm after completing a race.

The two-part research project will look at risk factors by studying every horse which races at certain meetings. First, vets will determine when and how horses traveled, their feeding regimen on raceday, and their behavior before the race.

Then, vets will collect information on 100 horses which fall, and compare that to information on 200 non-falling horses. Information will come from a variety of sources, including course surveys, questionnaires, and video footage. "In particular, we are studying factors to do with courses (distance to the first fence, course footing condition, obstacle frequency), jockeys (experience, number of rides on course, previous falls), horses (days since last race, previous jumping record, training methods, handicap mark), and obstacles (height, gradient of take-off and landing, construction)."

The other researchers are Peter Clegg, Vet MB, PhD, Cert EO, Dipl. ECVS, MRCVS, N. French, BVSc, PhD, MSc, MRCVS, and G. Pinchbeck, BVSc, Cert ES, MRCVS.

"Aintree has made a number of changes to the Grand National course over the past few years in order to minimize risk to horses. They are awaiting the results of our study before making further alterations. They do not want to make any changes that increase the risk of injury rather than decrease it," explains Proudman.-Stephanie L. Church

Incidence Of Fatalities

7 per 1000 runners for NH racing (0.7%)
0.8 per 1000 runners on the flat (0.08%)

National average of horses that fell in NH racing was 7.1% of runners in 1996-9. The averages for Cheltenham and Aintree racecourses are higher than this, possibly due to more competitive nature of racing at these premier tracks.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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