Every year in April, the focus of the public turns to the Grand National, but for horse racing consultant David Muir and the RSPCA equine inspectors, it is the culmination of months of advising, monitoring and working to try to get every horse through the race unscathed.
It’s safe to say that for them all, the race itself is one of the longest and most intense nine minutes to endure, watching each horse intently in the hope they make it safely over each fence.
Improving racehorse welfare
And it’s not just Aintree that they are focused on. David visits many other courses and high profile racing events every year, making recommendations to the management where necessary and monitoring the welfare of the horses.
We called for a comprehensive review into Cheltenham Racecourse after the very sad deaths of a number of horses, including six horses at this year’s 2018 Cheltenham Festival. The RSPCA and World Horse Welfare will now be fully involved in the review announced by the British Horseracing Authority last month (March 2018) and we hope this will lead to effective measures to reduce the likelihood of similar tragedies in the future.
Horse racing is a complicated issue that often divides animal lovers.
But as the country’s largest animal welfare charity, we’re presented with a choice; to try to campaign from the outside to bring about the end of one of the UK’s biggest spectator sports, or to work alongside the industry to do all we can to better the welfare of the racehorses and be involved in bringing about as much change as possible using our unique expertise.
We firmly believe that this is the best way for us to help the horses involved.
No horse death is ever justifiable; we do our utmost to be involved in preventing any fatalities.”
How we’ve helped to change the racing industry
During the last 30 years we have been involved with discussions, research and reviews that have contributed to the following major changes in the racing industry:
- A pioneering, shock-absorbent ‘whip’ for jockeys to carry, which features new technology that is kinder to the horse and fulfils its purpose as encouragement when used in compliance of the whip rules rather than invoking fear.
- New whip rules which restrict the number of times a jockey can use the whip during a race.
- Trials are due to commence of brand new state of the art ‘safety hurdle’ for racecourses – this is still under wraps right now but we’ll tell you more as soon as we can!
- Run-out areas on courses that allow loose horses to leave the race safely and be caught.
- Further investment into watering equipment that ensures a softer, safer racing surface, and encouraging jockeys to ride at a speed appropriate to the track conditions.
- The continual review and if necessary, modification of fences to make them more inviting and forgiving to impact, with the removal of the solid fence cores.
- The widening of the first fence at Aintree’s Grand National, so the horses are less likely to bunch together and fall in the rush to get ahead.
- The removal of many of the drops immediately after fences so that the horse doesn’t land on a surface lower than where he took off, reducing the risk of falling. Becher’s Brook at Aintree was modified similarly to this in 2012.
- Tighter race entry controls for horses and riders; no amateur jockeys, higher handicap levels and the BHA can declare any horse unfit to race at any time.
- Jockeys can no longer re-mount horses and continue the race if they have fallen.
- Introduction of rubber walkways to prevent horses slipping and injuring themselves.
- Improved, smoother surface on hurdles, virtually eradicating the risk of ‘glove’ injuries (painful tears to the skin of the horse’s leg.)
- Improved design of water jumps that now include non-slip liners and no lip on the landing area which can cause horses to trip.
- The introduction of state of the art ‘cool down areas’ at major race courses where the horses’ temperatures can be safely brought back to normal and aids their post-race recovery.
- Research into the improvement of horse ambulances.
- Continued and improved research into the proper use and welfare issues surrounding ‘tongue ties’ – a piece of tack fitted to the bridle designed to stop the horse’s tongue from moving.
Jockeys play a vital role in making racing safer and our racing consultant David Muir visits the Northern Racing College in Doncaster providing his own insightful course into welfare aspects of racing, and the work of the RSPCA in this area.
David’s discussions include the ethics of when to decide to abandon a race and pull up a horse that is showing signs of tiredness, along with other welfare issues such as the appropriate use of the whip.
These changes over the last few years are something the RSPCA is proud of, and we want to reassure our supporters and all animal lovers that we will never stop working to improve the welfare of race horses in this country.
About David Muir – horse racing consultant for the RSPCA
Based in Preston, Lancs
RSPCA racing consultant since 1998 (19 years)
Former officer-in-charge, Lancashire Constabulary Mounted Branch (17 years)
Former police officer (34 years)
David was chosen by our former racing consultant who was also one of our Superintendents, Bernard Donigan, to take on the role after his retirement. The RSPCA chief executive at the time was searching for the right person to be the connection between the racing industry and the charity.
David has maintained a robust but constructive dialogue with the racing industry for almost two decades and has been responsible for a number of vital and groundbreaking improvements to the welfare of race horses.
Could you give a rescue horse a stable future?
We’re looking for dedicated and experienced horse handlers willing to foster one or more of the many equines in our care for at least six months. Either as companionship for your own horse or to take on two foster horses as company for each other.