Racehorse safety and welfare research receives $5.25m boost

September 16 / 186

Racing Minister Paul Pakula meets a client of U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital
Racing Minister Paul Pakula meets a client of U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital

New funding from the University, Victorian Government and Racing Victoria will allow Equine Centre researchers to develop models and training guidelines to reduce risk of injury to horses and riders.

The program is focused on developing best-practice strategies to prevent bone and joint injuries in racehorses, and was announced by Victorian Racing Minister Martin Pakula recently.

It involves collaboration between veterinarians, biomechanical engineers, epidemiologists, and bone biology researchers.

Bone injuries are the most common cause of horse fatalities, but are also a common factor in lameness and premature retirement. 

Head of the Equine Centre at U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital Chris Whitton says a galloping racehorse can generate five tonnes of force with each stride. 

“Research has already shown how horses’ bones accumulate micro-damage and heal during training, improving their strength and ability to manage these massive loads.” he says.

Professor Whitton said the new funding would allow researchers to improve understanding of the injury and repair process and develop scientifically-informed guidelines for horse training and rest periods, which would reduce the risk of bone injuries. 

“At the moment, bone injuries are regarded as an inevitable consequence of training, but this needn't be the case,” he said. 

“If we can unravel the intricacies of the bone’s response to stress and exercise and detect bone damage early, it’ll go a long way to preventing long-term injury and fatalities.”

The ultimate aim of the research will be to create a ‘mathematic model’ of bone injury that trainers, owners and racing authorities can then use as a tool to guide their training and racing regimes.

The Victorian government is providing a total of $2.25 million, Racing Victoria a total of $1.6 million, while the University of Melbourne will also commit $1.4 million over the three years.

Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences John Fazakerley welcomed the funders’ support, saying the funding, including a grant from the University of Melbourne, recognised the importance of scientific research to determine best practice in Australia’s racing industry on safety, training and care.

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