BHA: Changes to Grand National Could Improve Equine Welfare

Months after two horses died during the 2011 running of the Grand National steeplechase--the famed British race held annually at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, England--the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has completed a review of equine safety and welfare during the race. The organization has also made recommendations to improve equine safety and welfare, according to a press release from the BHA.

"The review group considered a large amount of statistical data and technical information relating to the Grand National and the Grand National course," the release relayed. "The Aintree Managing Executives were involved actively throughout the review. The group also consulted extensively, including with representatives from the Aintree Veterinary Team; the Jockeys and the Professional Jockeys Association; Racehorse Trainers and the National Trainers Federation; and animal welfare organizations including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and World Horse Welfare."

The main recommendations of the review, The Grand National: A Review of Safety and Welfare, include:

  • Several changes relating to the structure of and groundwork around fences in the race (which were communicated as part of an August announcement by Aintree and are now completed);
  • Minimum age of horses eligible to be entered in the race to be increased from six to seven years, and all horses to have previously finished fourth or better in a steeplechase under rules of three miles or further;
  • Various elements of pre- and post-race procedures to be reviewed and enhanced;
  • Improved processes for identifying and responding to weather-related risks; and
  • Existing race-day veterinary inspections (carried out by BHA veterinarians) of all horses running in the Grand National to be extended to all races run over the Grand National fences.

"Events at the 2011 Grand National were upsetting for people directly involved in the sport and those who follow it," Tim Morris, DVM, PhD, BHA director of equine science and welfare, said in the release. "The deaths of two horses ... ensured there was significant media and public attention on the issue of safety and welfare in the Grand National.

"We have learned some valuable lessons from the events of 2011, one of which is that we need to work harder and be more effective at communicating our positive, proactive welfare work," he continued. "For example, the scenes of jockeys dismounting and water and oxygen being made available to horses post the Grand National were mistakenly interpreted as evidence of extreme fatigue on the part of the horses, when in fact the measures were designed to be pre-planned and preventative."

In a separate release, World Horse Welfare's Chief Executive Roly Owers said, "We welcome the recommendations in the report which are good news for horse welfare. We ... welcome their commitment to review their pre- and post-race procedures to improve the comfort and safety of the horses. There will always be risks to horse and rider in racing, particularly at the Grand National, but we hope these changes will help make the 2012 meeting the safest yet."

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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