NATIONAL REPORT — The American Association of Equine Practitioners issued new recommendations targeting the harness racing industry, following the recent development of veterinary guidelines for the welfare and safety of quarter horses and racing Thoroughbreds.
"(The recommendations) are the first statements of their kind to place the medication issue in an appropriate and realistic perspective. These recommendations put the horse first in a climate of racing reform and reinforce the role of the veterinarian as an advocate for equine welfare. These recommendations, taken as a whole, are intended to help veterinarians promote the safety and welfare of race horses and the integrity of racing," says Clarksburg, N.J.-based Scott Palmer, DVM, who serves as racing committee chairman.
Breed-specific recommendations on various conditions that affect the horse in the racing environment is addressed in the white paper titled, "Putting the Horse First: Veterinary Recommendations for the Safety and Welfare of the Standardbred Racehorse."
Several points noted in the paper include:
1. Pre-race and post-race veterinary examination standardization and enhancement throughout 17 jurisdictions with harness racing in the United States.
However, at this time, according to Palmer, participation is voluntary and the reporting by individual racetracks is sporadic.
"Pre-race examinations are an important tool for the protection of horses at the racetrack," he adds. "The problem at the moment is that there is great inconsistency in these examinations from one racing jurisdiction to another or even from one racetrack to another. One of the most important recommendations of the Standardbred white paper was to standardize quality pre-race examinations and have them performed by veterinarians who are experienced in equine lameness."
2. Best practices procedures are adopted to focus on racing surface safety.
"The development of practices that ensure the consistency of the racing surface is one of the most important priorities for safety of the horse and drivers. This requires uniform moisture content appropriate for varying weather conditions and standardized grooming protocol," Palmer says. "We recommend that track superintendents document and share best practice protocols."
3. Agreement by Standardbred racetracks to be involved in a national injury reporting system.
4. Organization of a Standardbred Safety and Welfare Summit to develop strategies to improve conditions in all aspects of the Standardbred industry.
5. More security on racetracks to guarantee racing participants follow medication guidelines.
"This is a major challenge for the harness horse industry since many horses are stabled and trained on training centers away from the racetrack," Palmer adds.
6. Continued efforts by Standardbred racing officials to be proactive in the safety and humane issues of the equipment the horse wears, shoeing and hoof care, and the safety of the race bikes, according to Palmer.
The white paper divides the guidance into four categories: owner-veterinarian relationship, racing business model, medication, and public view of racing. AAEP's Standardbred Subcommittee of its Racing Committee created the paper. This committee consists of private racetrack veterinarians, veterinary specialists and regulatory veterinarians. Palmer serves as racing committee chairman with Foster Northrop, DVM, of Louisville, Ky., serving as vice chair.
"The context for these white papers is the climate of racing reform that evolved from the recent crisis of Thoroughbred racing," Palmer says. "This crisis was precipitated by decreasing handle and a few catastrophic injuries in high profile Thoroughbred races in recent years. The industry responded with safety and integrity reform efforts. AAEP officials believed that it was important that someone speak for the horse during the process of racing reform. These white paper recommendations are intended to put the horse first.
"Much of the blame for the ills of racing was placed at the foot of medication and by implication, veterinarians. The AAEP racing committee felt it was of critical importance to point out that veterinarians do not practice medicine in a vacuum. The committee felt that it was appropriate to define the medication issue in the context of modern society's view of horses, the business model of racing, the owner-trainer-veterinarian relationship and issues specific to medication itself," Palmer explains.
The owner-veterinarian relationship is a key area of focus in the white paper. Palmer says critical to this relationship are transparency and open communication.
"Too often there are communication breakdowns that lead to frustration and failure to meet the expectations of the members of this relationship," he adds.