Importance of Horse Safety

AQHYA member Kimberlee Standeford shares what she learned at the AQHYA National Racing Experience and discusses the importance of horse safety.

I attended the AQHYA National Racing Experience at the Bank of America Racing Challenge Championships this year at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa. This was an incredible opportunity to learn about the time and effort invested in horse racing by many people holding a variety of jobs.

At Prairie Meadows, our group met with a track veterinarian and group of starting-gate assistants who all discussed the importance of keeping the horses safe. I was very impressed with the official precautions taken to keep the horses safe when racing.

The first step to keeping horses safe when racing deals with starting-gate etiquette. Before being able to run, a horse must have safely practiced loading and standing in a starting gate. The purpose of this exercise is to familiarize the horse with the starting gate in a more laid-back environment, so the horse will be less likely to act in an unsafe manner when in the gates on race day. The assistants also fasten flipping halters, devices used to prevent horses from rearing up and flipping over backwards, to each horse. Not all horses are required to wear flipping halters, but when they do, the assistants thread a thin rope through a ring under the horse’s chin and hook it on the starting gate. When the gate opens, the hook falls and the rope unfastens. These practice sessions and the use of flipping halters are intended to reduce the chances of horses, jockeys and starting-gate assistants from getting hurt in the gates.

When race day comes, the track veterinarians observe the horses multiple times throughout the day. In the mornings, the veterinarians visit the barns to inspect every horse that is to be racing that day. The veterinarians watch the trainers pull the horses out of their stalls and trot them up and down the aisle. Also, the veterinarian observes the action in the paddock. If at any point, the horse rears up and hits its head or withers on anything, no matter how slightly, they are immediately scratched from the race. Finally, the same veterinarian will observe the horses on the track as they prepare for the race.

The track veterinarians all use a computer system to keep track of every horse on the racetrack, which enables them to make notes about individual horses that can be viewed by any veterinarian, at any location, at any time. If a veterinarian detects an issue of soundness, they are able to immediately scratch the horse from the race either in the barns, in the paddock or on the track before the race. This precautionary measure is taken to prevent horses from worsening a possible injury, which could cause them to break down on the track and endanger themselves, other horses and the jockeys.

If a horse sustains an injury during a race, there are many officials who are prepared to respond and assist. The first line of response is the outriders. These individuals wait on the far side of the track to intercept runaway horses and respond to any injuries. It is incredibly important that any horses in these situations are stopped before they can cause further incidents and further harm to themselves or other horses and jockeys. Additionally, a truck follows the horses from the starting gate, allowing the people inside the truck to be readily available to assist any jockeys and/or horses that have been injured.

Learning about these processes reaffirmed my love for American Quarter Horse racing, and my involvement in the AQHYA National Racing Experience taught me so much about horse racing. I would like to take this opportunity to thank AQHA for providing this opportunity and the many people who contributed to making this program such a success.

To learn more about the AQHYA National Racing Experience, visit www.aqha.com/youth.