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ISES Down Under, Day 2 – Sophie’s blog

After a fun night at the formal dinner on Thursday night, we got back together at 8:30am and started with a really interesting plenary by Peta Hitchins on ‘The power of collaboration: Improvements to safety and welfare in racing’.

Racehorse fatalities are prevalent, and not improving, and research shows that racehorse injury is the most common reason for jockey fatalities/injury, but there has been a lack of evidence to effect change. What we do know is, if we protect the racehorse, we protect the jockey.

Some of the stats – there is a 50% higher chance of a fall for apprentice jockeys. That risk goes up with jockey inexperience, and maiden and inexperienced horses. The risk increases again for sprint and dry fast tracks. Majority of falls are pre & post race, and 97% due to horse behaviour. The falls that occur during the race are more severe, and most are due to catastrophic injury or death of horse. Then, horse behaviour, stumbling, clipped heels, shifting abruptly etc in order are main causes of falls.

In order to improve injury rates, the industry needs to improve and manage jockey experience (education & restriction of riding inexperienced horses), improve horse behaviour, and reduce injuries in horses. There needs to be changes to training programs, policy and practice changes – medicine restrictions, pre-race exams and track management.

Peta is doing some amazing things in the industry, it was a really great presentation and exciting to see what her research leads to.


Next up, Cammie Heleski talks about Thoroughbred racing ethics. Cammie looked at the public perceptions and industry reactions of various views –

  • Breakdowns – more noticed in racing industry than some of disciplines, but its good to see that times are changing, and safety has now become more essential than speed.
  • 2yo racing – very unpopular to the public, but actually research shows that sensible conditioning and racing of 2yo’s is better for soundness than holding off until 3-5 years.
  • Use of whip – the padded versions are better, but it still hurts. Cammie doesn’t suggest anti whip entirely, but it’s not necessary for jockeys to whip the horse down the home stretch, and research shows that its not actually affective anyway.
  • Medications on race day – it’s difficult to educate the public on what is good and what isn’t.
  • Life after racing – the perception is bad, but the industry is putting massive efforts into the life after racing with funding, competitions and events.

Cammie’s main concern in the racing industry is that racehorses traditionally have limited time in turn-out.. How can we give racehorses a somewhat more normal life? How can we give them the 3 F’s – Freedom of movement, Forage & Friends? The industry is massively improving here, with emphasis with horses having extensive time in large paddocks in groups, even stallions and yearlings in preparation.

The conclusion? “If we’re going to use horses for enjoyment and entertainment, we should carefully assess all phases of their life”.


Meredith Chapman then spoke to us about her Masters Thesis Work on ‘reducing horse-related injury and fatality – WHS-driven investigation of high profile death in Aus’. She investigated the Sarah Waugh incident (18yo death at Dubbo TAFE due to a horse fall) using the risk model – Swiss, which aims to reduce exposures to unwanted hazard by putting up layered defences.

Sarah Waugh’s case revealed she was an inexperienced rider, there was no risk assessment on new course, and the supervisors failed to follow safety rules. There was inadequate emergency instructions, and the horse she was riding was off-the-track and had raced just 6 weeks prior to Sarah riding it – there was no assessment on the horse’s behaviour or responses, and sarah was a beginner rider. The instructor had no first aid training, abandoned the structured lesson plan and there was generally a poor safety culture, among many, many other problems.

Meredith noted there needs to be a more proactive approach to horse riding safety, regulatory guidelines, and more awareness and perception of risk. Sarah’s accident may have been avoided even if just some of these negligence’s were dealt with.


Jane Williams then presented her study on heartrate monitoring to assess workload during maintenance interval training in national hunt horses (jumps racing). She aimed to evaluate how the maintenance workload of racehorses actively engaged in training and racing in the UK varied across an interval-training regime (6 weeks).

She used 10 racehorses from the same race training stable, and took weekly heartrate data while on a standard exercise routine – 3 gallop intervals.

The results showed most horses are working within a healthy heartrate level for maintenance training, which is great, but it was noted that the horse’s heartrate doesn’t always match perception of how hard the trainer perceives the horse to be working.


After morning tea, Kate Fenner presented her findings on pre-conceived ideas about horse temperament based on gender and sex. Her survey, which involved a ‘pretend family’ which the participants needed to allocate horses to each member based on type and gender (man, woman, boy, girl).  The findings revealed that often the Boys were left out of the riding scenario, and people felt Men were more suited to riding stallions.

Part of that survey was also about peopled perceptions of Geldings, Mares and Stallions.  The findings showed that people perceived Geldings to be generally more trainable, reliable, calm, and easy – all positive. They are the preferred trail ride mount, dressage and jumping mount.

Mares were less preferred, referred to as bossy, flighty, less easy – but there was a general thoughts that “once you ‘got’ mares, they were great” and “good days and bad days”.

Stallions were deemed as trainable, yet bossy and difficult.

The findings show that human ideas about horse temperament based on sex can have implications for training, as people may use certain methods based on their presumed ideas of the different temperaments according to the horse’s sex.


Sandra Kuhnke presented her study on the ‘selection of suitable personality traits evaluated by linear traits in the American Quarter Horse’. She selected most suitable traits out of traits assessed at breed shows, and then scored them through observation and owner surveys. The traits observed were behaviours such as alertness, standing still, calmness, whinnying, rearing etc.

The results showed that identification of genetic behavioural traits may be promising for application at breed shows to help judges objectively come up with a behaviour score.


Before lunch, Jaymie Loy presented her research on The Australian Equine Industry. It is one of Australia’s largest recreational and entertainment industries, with thoroughbred racing being the 2nd most popular spectator sport in the country.

Horses were introduced to Australia in 1788, with an estimated over 2.5 million horses in Australia by 1900’s. They were mainly used for exploration, farming, entertainment, transport and communication, but by the early 1900’s many horses lost their roles in society when machinery took over the main role of the horse.

Today, the horse industry provides jobs for over 240,000 people. Unlike many other countries we don’t have a nationwide database for horses in Australia, so there is a lot of wastage in the breeding industry. However, there are welfare groups and movements working towards more tracking of foals, and improvement on wastage.


After lunch we headed down to the horse area of Charles Sturt University where we had a tour or the facilities and some practical demonstrations. CSU has a veterinary hospital as well as breeding programs, so we were introduced to a few key horses used in the programs. Dr Surita Du Preez introduced us to ‘Joe’ – the resident blood donor, and it was really interesting to learn about the type of horses who can be a blood donor, and how important Joe’s role was at CSU. Horses have 8 different blood types, so it is difficult to find donors. The reason Joe is so special is because his blood (forgive my lack of veterinary knowledge here) ‘works’ with the majority of other blood types. Joe has a great life, he donates blood when they need (he stands happily with a bag of feed), and that’s about it! He’s wonderfully calm and healthy (actually a bit fat, which is why he’s known as ‘Fat Joe’), and receives a lot of love by the staff and students. Joe can safely donate up to 11 litres of blood at a time, every 3-4 weeks.


We were then introduced to their ‘stallions’ (1 real stallion, and one gelding on Testosterone replacement). They have several mares and foals in the breeding program which must be great for the students! Interestingly, the Gelding when on testosterone replacement can do everything (I mean, everything) a stallion can do, aside from actually getting a mare pregnant. So he’s used to teach the students how to collect semen and prepare for insemination etc.


We then had a demonstration by Leigh Wills and Sally showing their foal training program they use in NZ to familiarise foals with humans and begin their very early training. They work with the foals in a 9 day program where they teach basic handling (touch, pick up feet, lead etc). The programs are very gentle, and minimal stress for the mare and foal – the foal is always handled with its mum. The benefits mean that the foals learn the basics of in-hand training from the start which makes their later life less difficult. In their years of training, not one of the foals they have trained has gone on to be dangerous or injured, and one was even in the Melbourne Cup! I’m sure she will see many more.


After afternoon tea we headed to the indoor arena where farrier Richard van Dyke demonstrated how he uses a form of overshadowing to help manage a difficult horse, which also improves the safety of farriers. The farrier industry is very dangerous, and the farriers themselves often have fairly inhumane ways of dealing with a difficult horse, so it was nice to see Richard and his wife Jenny working together to safely handle horses and improve behaviour.


Last up for the day was Manuela McLean demonstrating how she teaches learning theory to children. She started with explaining to the two young girls how to teach their ponies to ‘Park’ for safe handling, and it was lovely to hear such clear, simple terms that the kids could understand. She then went on to test the ponies stop response under-saddle (applying the aid and releasing the pressure when the pony stops) and also engaging the riders’ core to enable a clear and stable delivery of the stop aid. She then worked on Go and transitions as one of the ponies was a little ‘go-ey’ which soon calmed down, and the other pony was a little ‘lazy’ so she used little whip taps on the shoulder to improve his go response. Manu’s demonstration was so refreshing and the audience really enjoyed seeing how she simplified learning theory so that the kids could really take it all in. The kids seemed to love it too! – Go Mum 😉

That wrapped up the day so now we’re off to the ‘Cork & Fork’ festival for a bit of fun, food and more wine!