Jump horse safety: reconciling public debate and Australian thoroughbred jump racing data, 2012-2014

Thoroughbred jump racing sits in the spotlight of contemporary welfare and ethical debates about horse racing. In Australia, jump racing comprises hurdle and steeplechase races and has ceased in all but two states, Victoria and South Australia. This paper documents the size, geography, composition, and dynamics of Australian jump racing for the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons with a focus on debate about risks to horses. We found that the majority of Australian jump racing is regional, based in Victoria, and involves a small group of experienced trainers and jockeys. Australian jump horses are on average 6.4 years of age. The jump career of the majority of horses involves participating in three or less hurdle races and over one season. Almost one quarter of Australian jump horses race only once. There were ten horse fatalities in races over the study period, with an overall fatality rate of 5.1 fatalities per 1000 horses starting in a jump race (0.51 per cent). There was significant disparity between the fatality rate for hurdles, 0.75 fatalities per 1000 starts (0.075 per cent) and steeplechases, 14 fatalities per 1000 starts (1.4 per cent). Safety initiatives introduced by regulators in 2010 appear to have significantly decreased risks to horses in hurdles but have had little or no effect in steeplechases. Our discussion considers these data in light of public controversy, political debate, and industry regulation related to jump horse safety. The study is from the School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Ruse K, Davison A, Bridle K. Animals (Basel) 2015; 5(4): 1072-1091.