Voters back mandatory racehorse welfare standards this election

Published on 20 October 2022

As we enter the home straight for the November election, calls are growing for politicians to commit to mandatory welfare standards for the more than 17,500 horses estimated to be involved in Victoria’s racing industry.

Victoria currently has no mandatory welfare standards that racing trainers, owners and industry workers must follow, despite research indicating 76% of voters[1] support their introduction.

RSPCA Victoria CEO Dr Liz Walker said surveys show animal welfare is a priority for voters in the upcoming election and more must be done to address public concerns about racehorse welfare.

“Currently in Victoria, legal protection for racehorses is limited to the minimal requirements under Victoria’s animal welfare legislation. While there are industry-regulated rules of racing, they are not sufficient to protect the welfare of racehorses throughout their lifecycle and are not enshrined in legislation so can be changed by industry at any time,” said Dr Walker.

“We currently have a non-mandatory code under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1986) but it only outlines provisions for the needs of horses in general not the very specific needs of horses participating in the racing industry. This contrasts with other areas such as farming and animal research where specific welfare standards must be met.

“Furthermore, horses can live for a long time – long after they finish their racing careers, and presently the industry is not responsible for racehorses after they finish racing.

“RSPCA – together with thousands of Victorians – wants to see the introduction of mandatory standards that would require owners and trainers of racehorses to provide appropriate nutrition, socialisation, training and rehoming options as well as mandatory levels of training for staff.

“Mandatory welfare standards should also aim to end racing practices that cause injury, pain, suffering or distress. Importantly, they should aim to ensure good welfare throughout the horse’s entire lifecycle to ensure these animals have a life worth living during and after racing careers.”

Recent racing industry media exposés have contributed to growing public concern about the welfare of racehorses, with issues including a lack of transparency around reporting deaths and injuries, oversupply and wastage, and the use of painful devices such as whips and tongue ties.

“RSPCA Victoria would like to see the introduction of mandatory standards similar to the Code of Practice for the Keeping of Racing Greyhounds, which ensures animal welfare relating to health, transport, husbandry and retirement for animals used in racing,” said Dr Walker.

“We believe that developing animal welfare standards for racehorses – regulated independent of industry – will positively impact the lives of these horses by ensuring appropriate levels of veterinary care, improved socialisation and handling, a reduction in injuries as well as better retirement plans.”

 

Background Facts

·       Data supplied by the industry indicates that there are around 12,500 horses currently racing within the two Victorian racing codes. However, as there are no independent reporting or traceability systems for racehorses at present, it is impossible to know the exact number of horses involved in the industry.

·       It is estimated there are approximately 13,000 Australian Thoroughbred foals born each year[2], while Harness Racing Victoria reported 1,476 foals were bred in the year 2020/21[3]. Not all of these horses make it to the racetrack and for those that do, their careers are typically short – approximately two to three years.

·       When asked what aspects should be captured under minimum standards for horseracing, Victorians highlighted the need for rules around devices used, minimum standards for healthcare and training techniques.[4]

 

RSPCA Victoria strongly advocates for the following inclusions in a mandatory welfare code for racehorses:

Health care – minimum standards for grooming, farriery and dental care, along with veterinary care such as vaccinations and parasite prevention.

Nutritional requirements – requirements for access to water and feeding for horses at different life stages and competition levels.

Socialisation – minimum standards for social/behavioural interactions with other horses and humans.

Euthanasia – minimum standards for humane euthanasia outside of race days and training settings and during different stages of a horse’s life.

Training and devices – minimum standards around training techniques.

Leaving the industry – processes for industry retirement and minimum requirements for the condition (i.e., health/behavioural) of a horse when it leaves the industry.

Breeding – minimum standards to ensure good breeding practices.

 

Victorians can show their support by visiting https://rspcavic.org/become-an-rspca-animal-advocate/

 

[1] Based on research conducted by Kantar Public (on behalf of RSPCA Victoria) with a representative sample of Victorians

[2] Thoroughbred Welfare Initiative, ‘The most important participant: A Framework for Thoroughbred Welfare. Report of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Welfare Working Group’, Thoroughbred Welfare Initiative (2021).

[3] Harness Racing Victoria, ‘Annual Report 2021’, Harness Racing Victoria (2021).

[4] Based on research conducted by Kantar Public (on behalf of RSPCA Victoria) with a representative sample of Victorians

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