British racing’s plan to improve equine welfare took a step forward on Thursday when the Horse Welfare Board outlined its five-year strategy, titled ‘A Life Well Lived’.

The ambitious programme, which was launched at a press conference at the BHA’s headquarters in London, covers all aspects of the racing industry, from the traceability of racehorses to recommending a consultation on the future of the whip.

Barry Johnson, the independent Chair of the Horse Welfare Board, used his opening address to highlight that welfare “is the most challenging debate affecting the racing industry today” and stressed that the strategy is just the beginning of the journey for equine welfare.

Building on the work racing has already completed with a number of campaigns, the five-year plan focuses on four key outcomes: quality of life, lifetime responsibility, best possible safety and the growth and maintenance of public trust.

Johnson added: “The horse is at the core of the Horse Welfare Board’s philosophy, and our vision is one the industry should be inspired to attain. It ensures that, during the whole lifetime of the horse, all facets of its welfare are scrutinised, understood, and where possible, improved.

“The strategy proposed today is of huge importance and significance”

“Standards of care are already extraordinarily high, and the vast majority of racehorses undoubtedly lead to the best possible quality of life for all thoroughbreds.

“We firmly believe that horses that are trained to take part in sport develop a real purpose that brings significant benefits to their wellbeing, not to mention those who care for them or ride them. Our goal is to measure these benefits where we can and communicate this better to a public that is often familiar with horses.

“We know we have to show why horses have such a special place in our national life and explain the sport’s high standards of welfare more confidently and proactively to the wider world.”

The board also expanded their remit to look at the use of the whip, noting via research carried out by the cross-industry Racing Futures project that non-industry respondents identified concerns around the whip to a similar level to concerns around injuries and fatalities.

The Horse Welfare Board is of the view that there is a case for change and recommends that a minimum requirement is an increase in penalties for rule breaches. It also advised that the BHA should conduct a consultation on the whip issue in 2020.

The ROA’s president Nicholas Cooper – Photo: Dan Abraham

Johnson explained: “This is a matter of public trust. We’d like people, especially those unfamiliar with horses, to under and accept what’s necessary for our jockeys to race safely in a fair sporting competition.

“It’s not about taking away the whip. Anyone who’s ridden a half-ton horse knows you need to be able to exercise control for the safety of horse and rider. This is about what should be allowable under our rules and how we penalise misuse to keep breaches to a minimum.”

A total of 20 recommendations have been made by the Horse Welfare Board, including a single euthanasia code covering the whole industry, obstacle improvement, a stalls and starting review and improved accountability in non-regulated sectors.

To combat public perception, racing has been urged by the board to adopt a more “campaigning” approach in its communication of welfare and “placing a stronger focus on horses in our communications to explain more about what their needs are, what motivates and stimulates and what constitutes a life well lived.”

Welcoming the publication of the report, the BHA has committed to draw up an implementation plan which will prioritise, fund and resource the various projects which relate to the sport’s regulatory and governing body.

“The horse is at the core of the Horse Welfare Board’s philosophy”

Chief Executive Nick Rust said: “I am proud of the work already done by the sport, including our own team of vets and officials, to give our horses the best possible quality of life. Our sport’s record in making racing safer for horses and jockeys is the result of many people working together for a common purpose. The BHA’s role in self-regulation of racing has been endorses by the Welfare Board as it has by government.

“When I saw the scale of the Welfare Board’s ambition, I was even more proud. Racing people want the very best for our horses. We would love more people outside our sport to understand just how much we put into keeping horses safe and allowing them to enjoy the quality of life that goes with being an equine athlete.”

Nicholas Cooper, President of the Racehorse Owners Association, added: “The founding principle of the Horse Welfare Board was to better engage the wider bloodstock and racing industry in a structured manner, in order to allow our great sport to advance welfare standards for all thoroughbreds, as well as minimise – wherever possible – the risks association with racing horses.

“The strategy proposed today is of huge importance and significance for the racing industry and the welfare board should be congratulated for delivering such a rounded and thorough document.

“We hope that the entire sport will get behind it and support the strategy, and play their part in its implementation.”