Massachusetts Endorses International Racehorse Welfare Rules

Massachusetts became the first U.S. racing jurisdiction to endorse the International Group of Specialists Racing Veterinarians guidelines for horse welfare when the state's gaming commission voted unanimously for the motion at a hearing May 29.

"To the best of my knowledge, Standardbred Canada is the only other North American racing authority to endorse a set of welfare guidelines," the commission's director of racing, Jennifer Durenberger, DVM, said in an email to "I believe we are the first racing regulatory authority in the United States to do so."

The motion read in part that "the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is committed to creating and maintain a regulatory structure that promotes industry best practices in order to protect the integrity of racing and to safeguard the safety and welfare of its many participants."

Stephen Crosby, Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) chairman, said the endorsement sends a message that the commission and the state are serious about equine welfare at the two live racing facilities in the state—Suffolk Downs, a Thoroughbred track in East Boston, and Plainridge Park Casino, a harness track in Plainville. Commissioner Gayle Cameron added that recent mainstream media reports of alleged racehorse abuse have drawn attention to the issue.

The guidelines, outlined in a five-page report authored by veterinarians from the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, concentrate on 21 areas for humane treatment of racehorses: good horsemanship, training methods, shoeing, transport, rest periods, pregnant mares, surface conditions, steeplechase and hurdling, extreme weather, medication, racecourse stability, veterinary inspections, immaturity, surgical procedures, severe or recurrent clinical conditions, racing injuries, veterinary treatment, misuse of the whip, medication, retirement, and euthanasia.

Durenberger said the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the U.S. Trotting Association, and several regional breed organizations have sanctioned welfare guidelines published by the American Horse Council.

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Lynne Snierson

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