Racehorse Welfare | April 2019

I have received a number of emails regarding racehorse welfare.
The welfare of racehorses is an important issue which the Government takes seriously.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is responsible for the safety of jockeys and horses at races in this country. The BHA works with animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare to keep racecourses as safe as possible for horses. Although elements of the BHA are involved in racing, it should be noted that it is independent of racecourses, jockeys, owners and the other racing bodies.
The BHA has a board of 10 members. While it is true that two members represent the interests of bodies involved in racing and racecourses, the majority of the board members are independent of such bodies and so can carry out their work completely without bias. The board investigates jockeys and trainers and there have been many instances where it has rightly come down very hard on offenders. As such, the board has demonstrated their ability to ensure that welfare standards for racehorses are maintained and that it is an independent body capable of regulating the sport.
It should be stressed that according to the BHA’s official figures, the overall equine fatality rate in British racing has reduced by one-third in the last twenty years, from 0.3% to less than 0.2% of runners in 2017, which is the lowest figure on record. As a result of the falling levels of equine fatalities within horse racing, it is the Government’s view that overall, racehorse welfare is improving and therefore, it does not agree that there is a need to set up another body responsible for racehorse welfare.
It should also be noted that, alongside the BHA, multiple other bodies exist which are also dedicated to ensure that the welfare of racehorses is upheld. This includes the Horsemen’s Group, the Racecourse Association, the Racehorse Owners Association, the Professional Jockeys Association and the National Trainers Federation. It is, therefore, questionable that establishing yet another body would help improve the situation and it is uncertain to whom such body would report or what the purpose of such a body would be, considering the large number of organisations which deal with horse welfare.
Furthermore, racehorses, like all domestic and captive animals, are afforded protection under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Under this legislation, it is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal, or for an owner (or keeper) to fail to provide for its welfare needs. Any person or organisation may initiate criminal proceedings where there is reason to believe that unnecessary suffering has been caused, or may report the matter to the police, local authority or RSPCA who will decide whether or not to institute a prosecution. The maximum penalty for an offence under the 2006 Act is a fine of £20,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment. Through the Animal Welfare Act 2006, robust regulations exist that ensure racehorses are protected.
The Government has made clear that it takes animal welfare issues very seriously, with the improvement of such welfare being a core objective of the draft Animal (Recognition of Sentience) Bill 2018-19.
April 2019

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