Veterinary science and racecourse improvements have helped to significantly reduce horse fatalities

Improvements in safety measures on Britain's racecourses and advances in veterinary science have helped to reduce the risk of injury and the number of fatalities in horseracing. Racecourse fatalities have fallen by a third over the last 20 years and the sport has also benefitted from its investment of over £27 million since 2000 in veterinary research and education projects.

Despite the best efforts of everyone involved in racing, there remains an inherent risk of injury that cannot be fully eradicated. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) takes its responsibility for equine welfare very seriously and constantly reviews statistics and trends at different courses and different racing surfaces. The BHA will conduct detailed investigations whenever there are particular concerns around a particular course. The process includes a thorough review of the career profiles of any injured horses, video analysis, mapping incidents, on-site track reviews and follow up.

The number of horse fatalities in British racing has fallen from 0.32% in 1997 to 0.22% in 2014. The official figures, published on the British Horseracing Authority website, show that in 2014 there were a total of 86,456 runners and a total of 189 fatalities. 

Horses are actually at greater risk of serious injury when turned out in the field rather than when being ridden. A study by Liverpool University found that 62% of “traumatic injuries” ranging from grazes to fractures suffered by a sample of leisure and competition horses occurred when turned out in the field compared to only 13% during ridden exercise1.

The most serious type of injury sustained by racehorses are bone fractures. With advances in veterinary medicine a number of fractures can now be repaired, often allowing the horse to continue with either its racing career or another career, however, there are difficulties in repairing certain fractures that are not comparable to humans. One of the biggest challenges for veterinary surgeons when treating all breeds of horses is not repairing the fracture per se, but the post-surgical complications and rehabilitation of a 500kg animal. Recuperation of a horse is a major welfare challenge, as horses do not adapt well to sustained periods of inactivity during convalescence. Additionally, horses are not functionally adapted to or capable of spending large periods of time ‘lying down’ or having a limb put in a sling to prevent weight-bearing and consequently, numerous life-threatening complications can result. Complicated, unstable fractures cannot withstand immediate weight-bearing and this means many fractures cannot be repaired. In such circumstances, the most humane measure is to put the horse down.

British Racing is among the world’s best-regulated animal activities. The standards demanded within the sport far exceed existing national animal welfare legislation. The sport employs around 6,500 people to provide first class care and attention for the 14,000 horses in training, providing them with a level of care and a quality of life that is virtually unsurpassed by any other domesticated animal.

For more information, click here to see the official British Horseracing Authority report

1. Owen, K. R., Singer, E. R., Clegg, P. D., Ireland, J. L., & Pinchbeck, G. L. (2012). Identification of risk factors for traumatic injury in the general horse population of north‐west England, Midlands and north Wales. Equine veterinary journal, 44(2), 143-148.