IN SEPTEMBER, HRI launched its industry standards regarding equine welfare. Its Welfare Council had engaged with industry participants (including this writer) during 2021 to develop principles of good welfare for thoroughbreds (TBs) in the breeding and racing sectors.

They came up with four: feeding, housing, health and well-being. Like all soundbites, these are broader, more complex and comprehensive than might first appear.

Feeding, for instance, encompasses all aspects of diet including water as well as feed; quantity and quality; how and when these are fed. An equine’s diet must be tailored to the individual and balanced across nutritional groups. Body condition score, age, workload, etc. must be factored in.

Fibre must be fed, then supplemented with more concentrated elements as needs be. Horses are trickle feeders so mimic natural conditions by allowing ad lib access to nibbles. Don’t forget that feed satisfies other needs related to well-being too: Dr Green is nature’s food for horses.

Prevention of injuries

Housing is taken to include all elements of an equine’s environment – fields, gallops and arenas not just sheds, shelters and stables. A key need for a happy, health horse is a dry place to lie – so pay attention to bedding areas and materials. This links with ventilation: create an environment to ensure optimum respiratory health.

Pathogens otherwise thrive and horse health suffers, with disastrous consequences for racing performance. And ground conditions underfoot are key to the maintenance of good hoof health but also to the prevention of injuries during training – a significant cause of racehorse ‘wastage’. Again there are obvious links to well-being too – horses are social creatures that generally thrive in like company.

Health is an all-encompassing term and a key component of welfare. It includes not only freedom from infectious disease such as might cause infertility or diarrhoea but also the absence of pain from wounds, dental disease and the fitting of equipment/tack. Prevention is key, so emphasis is laid on vaccination, veterinary expertise and biosecurity - so that there are fewer disease conditions in our herd causing illness and needing treatment.

Objective markers

The signs and indicators of good health are outlined with pointers for all persons working with horses. These include objective markers such as weight-loss or an elevated body temperature but also more subjective elements such as changes from normal behaviour pattern. Consider also the feedback received from skilled horse-riders and grooms who often sense an issue before it becomes apparent to all.

And then we have well-being - in this context the emphasis is on how we can make a Thoroughbred’s lifestyle most fulfilling:

  • By creating routine,
  • By ensuring adequate and appropriate exercise,
  • By positive, consistent human-horse interactions, and
  • By allowing horses to be horses as much as possible within the limits imposed by our need for them to breed, train and race.
  • Finally, there is due consideration given to alternative career options and end-of-life decision making. Some thoroughbreds are well suited to a second career – in eventing, dressage or showing, or to life as a companion to other equines.

    But some, due to injury, disease (such as laminitis) or temperament, simply are not. Thus our responsibilities to them do not end with the ending of their racing or breeding career. If another fulfilling career does not beckon and if retirement is not an appropriate option for them or for you, we must consider that euthanasia is a positive choice when employed to safeguard equine welfare. Our responsibilities extend from foal to founder, from first breath to last.

    Scan the Q code to access the full HRI Horse Welfare Policy