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New study adds to evidence to cease horse jumps racing

A paper recently published in a leading international journal, examining the risks and fatalities of jumps racing, adds to the already considerable evidence that jumps racing should end on animal welfare grounds.
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  • RSPCA Australia
  • Monday, 29 April 2024

A paper recently published in a leading international journal, examining the risks and fatalities of jumps racing, adds to the already considerable evidence that jumps racing should end on animal welfare grounds.

Jumps racing requires horses to jump over obstacles at speed over longer distances and while carrying heavier weights compared to flat racing. These aspects contribute to jumps races being considered inherently more dangerous to horse welfare than flat races.

Co-authored by RSPCA Australia’s Senior Scientific Officer Dr Di Evans, and RSPCA South Australia’s Animal Welfare Advocate Dr Rebekah Eyers, the paper was published following a retrospective study led by the University of Sydney, focusing on the 2022 and 2023 jumps racing seasons.

Publicly available data for both jumps and flat races obtained from the 38 race meetings held during this time was analysed. The aim was to determine if the injury, fall and fatality rates for horses competing in jumps races varied for horses competing in flat races at the same race meetings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that overall injuries, falls and fatalities in jumps racing still occurred at markedly higher rates than in flat racing, despite repeated industry reviews and the adoption of additional safety measures over previous years.

With these results in mind, can there truly be any justification for the continuation of jumps racing?

The current state of jumps racing

The continuation of jumps racing remains controversial due to the higher risk of injuries, falls and fatalities for horses, compared with flat races (though of course, flat races are not without their welfare issues.) Victoria is the last remaining state to permit jumps racing, following South Australia’s decision to phase it out in 2022.

As far back as 1991, there have been recommendations for the practice to be phased out (Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare 1991). Since then, there have been six further reviews into the welfare risks of jumps racing and horse/rider safety. With each review, some additional safety measures have been implemented that have included limiting the season to cooler months (between March and August), limiting the number of horses in a race, varying the height and angle of jumps, removing the final jump, and requiring jockeys to retire horses from the race where the horse is fatigued, not in contention to win, or there is a risk of injury by attempting to complete the race.

But despite these reviews and safety measures, injuries and fatalities still take place. The main injuries compared in the study included lameness, trauma, bleeding from the lungs and slow recovery times with nearly 7% of horses in jumps racing being reported as having one of these injuries compared to only 1.9% of horses in flat racing.

There were four horse fatalities in jumps racing compared to no deaths in flat races during the 22/23 season. No horses fell in any flat races over this period that the study looked at, whereas the rate of horse falls in jumps races was 3% - and this rate has not reduced over the past 10 years, despite specific measures being put in place in efforts to reduce fall rates.

This lack of a reduction in the fall rate indicates these rules, such as the requirement to pull up tired horses, are either ineffective, may not be used as often as indicated, or that other risk factors have not been adequately identified and addressed.

Furthermore, the study also found double the instances of whip use breach compared to flat races with 25 known incidents. Given that there is strong evidence that whips are harmful and ineffective and can actually increase fall risk, the continued reliance and overuse of whips is especially concerning.

Horses aren’t jumping for joy

Forcing horses to jump over obstacles at high speed pushes them far beyond their natural limits, increasing the risk of injury, pain, fear and death.

Jumps races are longer than flats races, sometimes up to three times the distance, and the weight restrictions imposed on jockeys in thoroughbred racing are not enforced, meaning these horses are forced to race for longer periods carrying heavier load. In a race where even the slightest miscalculation can result in a serious injury or death, running a horse into fatigue increases this risk unacceptably.

Racehorses, like all animals, are deserving of proper protection from unnecessary danger and harm. However, jumps racing places horses at increased risk of harm, the evidence supports this assertion time and again. These reasons and more are why the RSPCA believes jumps racing should end. It’s high time Australia became jumps racing free, once and for all.




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