The Thoroughbred Safety Coalition is implementing a series of medical, operational, and organizational reforms across the thoroughbred racing industry to ensure the well-being of horses and jockeys, increase transparency and accountability and secure the future of the sport.
Protecting our athletes demands an industry-wide effort that touches on every facet of horse racing. We have developed an extensive set of reform initiatives and standards to ensure that every horse is fit to race and every surface fit to race on, every time. This requires all our sport’s stakeholders to hold themselves, and each other, thoroughly accountable.
Our most pressing commitment is to unify everyone involved around these initiatives and standards, and the urgency of their full implementation. These reforms are vital, but they’re also only a beginning. We’re committed to pressing forward, and aligning our industry, on emerging best practices for athlete safety.
- Increase the withdrawal time for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to 48 hours pre-race
NSAIDs are frequently prescribed as anti-inflammatories for horses. While these drugs can help reduce a fever, or mitigate pain associated with an injury or chronic disease—as ibuprofen can with humans—they can also increase a horse’s ability to withstand pain, masking the potential severity of an underlying issue.
- Prohibit concurrent usage of multiple NSAIDs
Administering two or more kinds of NSAIDs simultaneously (“stacking,” as it’s called) can similarly increase a horse’s ability to withstand pain and mask the potential severity of an underlying issue.
- Increase the withdrawal time for corticosteroids to 14 days pre-race
Corticosteroids can be used to treat lameness in horses, alleviating pain and decreasing inflammation from arthritic joints, potentially improving performance and longevity. But these drugs can also mask the severity of pain a horse is suffering form, potentially cutting short the athlete’s necessary healing time.
- Prohibit concurrent usage of multiple corticosteroids
“Stacking” corticosteroids can likewise conceal pain a horse may be experiencing and cause broader health risks, as well.
- Prohibit the use of bisphosphonates on horses in training or racing, with a penalty of 12 months on the vets’ list if detected
Bisphosphonates are commonly and properly used to treat Navicular syndrome in older horses. Navicular syndrome causes lameness with the formation of bone spurs that wear against tissues surrounding the Navicular bone—causing pain deep in a horse’s foot. Bisphosphonates prevent the formation of these spurs by preventing the removal of diseased bone cells—which must occur before new bone can be laid down at that site. Young horses’ bones necessarily undergo remodeling as they train, building stronger bone. While bone remodeling is a problem in Navicular syndrome, it’s also critical to the good health of normal young horses. Bisphosphonates impede bone remodeling, and their use in young horses presents an increased risk of bone failure or fracture. Like NSAIDs and corticosteroids, bisphosphonates can also mask pain, which can create further complexity for young horses. Horses may not perceive any pain associated with the bone weakened by bisphosphonate use.
- Regulate extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT)
This technique is commonly used for treating orthopedic problems in horses, including tendon and ligament injuries, navicular syndrome, and arthritis. As with any medical treatment, the proper use ESWT requires strict protocols. The Coalition is now in the process of drafting and implementing a policy that will mandate a minimum number of days on the vet list, as well as a central location for testing in all jurisdictions where this treatment is used.
- Adopt “voided claim” rules to help protect unsound horses from continuing to compete and injuring themselves further
A “claiming race” is a race in which all of the horses entered are often for sale, and anyone who is licensed to own race horses may buy (or “claim”) a horse beforehand. Following the race, the ownership of the horse will transfer. The purpose of a voided claim rule is to prevent such a transfer of ownership if a horse is injured during the claiming race. Such a rule can also permit the purchaser to void a claim if a veterinarian determines the horse to be lame after the race.
- Mandate direct daily reporting by vets to regulatory officials
Private veterinarians are currently not required to report directly to regulatory offices on their treatments or exams each day. Doing so will further help determine if a horse is fit to race and will provide a longer-term view of a horse’s overall health and welfare.
- Perform random, out-of-competition testing on horses without limitation
Any horse in training to race should be considered a candidate for random testing designed to reveal the use of any substances that may put the horse’s welfare—as well as the integrity of a horse racing competition—at risk.
- Adopt a uniform riding-crop rule, limiting crop use and defining crop specifications
The riding crop, regularly seen in the hands of almost every jockey during a race, can be used as a way to encourage horses or correct their direction (e.g., a tap to the shoulder signifies to a trained horse to move away from that tap, which can help avoid cutting off other horses, collisions, etc.).
- Mandate necropsies on all fatally injured or ill horses
In the event of a fatality, post-mortem exams are essential in order to identify the role of any underlying injuries or health issues a horse may have been experiencing. All exams should be conducted by a board-certified pathologist. The results will be used to look for patterns and develop additional medical and operational reforms, as needed.
- Enforce minimum timed thoroughbred working requirements
Such requirements help ensure that horses can be appropriately evaluated and accurately assessed prior to entering a race. While these standards are currently in place in some regions, such as California and New York, we are working to standardize and strengthen guidelines among a broader set of race tracks and jurisdictions.
- Create an electronic veterinary reporting system and centralized database
Enabling and mandating an efficient, reliable reporting system for vets, and collecting the reported information in a common database, will improve pre-race screening and integration with out-of-competition testing rules.
- Collect racing surface data and merge information with existing databases
Correlating a new racing-surfaces database with preexisting injury databases, such as the Equine Injury Database, veterinary and pre-race examination databases, and veterinary lists, will give the industry a vastly improved capability to diagnose and address injury patterns.
- Standardize protocols for ensuring jockey health and wellness
The Jockey Injury Database (JID), created in 2012 by the Jockey’s Guild, collects and tracks information on injuries at race tracks—including where, when, and how an injury occurs, what type of equipment the rider was wearing at the time, and the nature and severity of the injury. Every track will gather this data and work with its local jockey colony to provide this information. Race tracks will have paramedics on call during race days, as well as adopt a concussion protocol in the event a rider comes off a mount during training or while racing.
- Develop a proficiency system for exercise riders
Exercise riders play an important role in the health and wellbeing of every race horse. It will be standard for every exercise rider, across all race tracks, to have to undergo a training period with proficiency exams and periodic qualifications to continue working.
- Create a safety steward position in all jurisdictions
Each jurisdiction has its own set of rules when it comes to regulations at the race track. A universal safety steward position would help bring cohesiveness to the industry. The safety steward will essentially function as a bridge between horsemen at a track and track personnel. The Steward will be responsible for the enforcement of any kind of safety rule at the track and can work to implement new ones.
- Establish cross-functional safety committees at all participating race tracks
All track coalition members will not only work with individual safety stewards but maintain internal safety committees—composed of track management, horsemen, jockeys, veterinary representatives, and others—to ensure full scrutiny, and maximum effectiveness, for every single safety measure.
- Mandate increased licensing requirements for trainers
Thoroughbred trainers are primarily responsible for the care and performance of our equine athletes. For that reason, the Coalition is establishing, and advocating for the adoption of, a higher standard for licensing that includes requirements for continuing education.