World Horse Welfare welcomes changes to Grand National but urges reduction of number of horses in race
“We welcome Aintree’s demonstrated commitment to making the course safer and the changes proposed today, which make good sense”, said chief executive Roly Owers. “We are especially encouraged by their programme of work on the fences, replacing the hard cores with softer materials to make them more forgiving to the horses. This has the potential to make a big difference to safety.
“However, we are disappointed that they have not proposed reducing the size of the field, although we note that they are keeping this under review. We believe that the number of fallers, unseated riders and horses being brought down by other horses in the National is too high (50% in 2012). While there is clearly no magic formula here, changes need to be made to significantly reduce the faller rate which will reduce the number of injuries, fatalities and loose horses which pose risks to themselves and others on the course. We believe the single most effective way of doing this is to trial a reduction in the field size – say for three years.
“We do not believe that this would alter the spectacle or character of the race. In previous years the field size has shrunk to around 30 and there were no complaints that the race was any less compelling. A reserve system could operate where, if horses dropped out on the eve of the race, others could take their place, ensuring the field size is large enough on the day.”
World Horse Welfare has urged the BHA and Aintree to give further consideration to a trial reduction of the maximum field size for the 2013 race. The charity understands the organiser’s concerns that there is limited data suggesting a reduction in field size would make a difference, and implementing too many changes at once could make it difficult to evaluate which changes are actually working. It also accepts that a reduction to field size offers no guarantee of safety.
“We will never eliminate risk in any sport, but it is the duty of the sport to do all they can to try to reduce it. The public accepts there are risks in racing, but that does not mean we need to accept fatalities and chalk them up to bad luck. When we involve horses in sport - and especially in a challenging race like the National – people have a responsibility to learn from accidents of the past and make changes to try to prevent them from happening again.
“Our constructive discussions with the BHA and Aintree have shown that they understand this responsibility, and Aintree have been proactive in seeking to reduce risk in other aspects of the race. Moving the start to a quieter location, levelling off the undulations on the course landings and improvements to catching loose horses are all very sensible improvements.”
Aintree is also levelling the drop landing at Becher’s Brook to six inches on the outside and ten inches on the inside, to encourage horses to spread out across the jump. World Horse Welfare welcomes this change but still believes that the angle of the fence may need review.
Education of jockeys to improve their awareness of horse welfare and public perception of the sport is an area where the charity would like to see more activity, particularly around the Grand National which many agree is a ‘shop front’ for horseracing as a sport.
“We would even offer to help provide this education which would only help to support the sport. In the meantime we look forward to continuing our constructive dialogue over the National – and all equine welfare matters within racing”.