Race day veterinarians examine on average one horse in every 16 starters across Victoria. Having your horse examined is just part of racing.
Read on for an explanation of the why, what and how of the race day veterinary examination.
Why is my horse being examined?
There are three main reasons why your horse will be examined by the race day vet.
- Mandated examination as part of HRV’s Race Day Veterinary Examination Policy (Click here to view this Policy).
- Incident or suspected abnormality identified by the race day stewards, the race day veterinarian or other race day staff.
- Performance query.
HRV's Race Day Veterinary Examination Policy applies to horses that are older than 12 years, have started in more than 200 races, have not raced for 12 months or longer and horses which raced the day before or are programmed to run again within the next 24 hours.
These horses must be examined by the Race Day Veterinarian before and/or after each racing engagement.
Harness racing is quite unique in that it is common for horses to continue racing over many starts and/or well into their teens.
Pre- and post-race checks help ensure that these amazing athletes can continue to race and demonstrates the harness racing community’s ongoing commitment to maintaining high standards of animal welfare.
Horses that are engaged to race the next day will be examined after their first race and again the following day before their second race to ensure they have recovered adequately and have not incurred any injury that may compromise their welfare going into their next engagement.
Incident or suspected abnormality identified by the Race Day Stewards, the Race Day Veterinarian or other race day staff:
A horse will always be examined by the Race Day Veterinarian if the horse is involved in an incident on the harness racing club premises that could compromise its welfare or there is any suggestion, at any time, of possible injury or disease e.g. gait abnormalities, visible blood, respiratory noise or discharge, distress, musculo-skeletal and metabolic derangements, and behavioural abnormalities.
Horses will often be examined if:
- The horse does not perform in line with its previous form
- There is a query over driving tactics
- The horse’s performance does not match the betting market’s expectations
The Race Day Veterinarian will then perform each horse examination as requested by the Stewards with the welfare of the animal as the foremost consideration.
How is the veterinary examination performed?
Each veterinarian has their own method of conducting a physical exam, but you can expect most, if not all, of the following to occur:
- Confirmation of the horse’s identity (verbally and via the brand and/or microchip).
- Examination of the horse’s mucous membranes and capillary refill time – this gives a good indication of the health of the animal’s cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
- Assessment of the horse’s respiratory system - how it sounds and how much effort is being required of the horse and any discharges. The vet will usually listen to the horse's chest with a stethoscope and examine the upper airways with an endoscope if available.
- Assessment of the horse’s heart rate and heart sounds, usually performed with a stethoscope. Horses in pain or suffering previously undetectable infection will often present with a high heart rate and/or slow recovery
- Assessment of the horse’s musculo-skeletal system, usually performed via palpation and “jogging” or “trotting” the horse out in hand
- Assessment of the horse’s mentation and behaviour – horses that are heat stressed, exhausted or in pain will often show abnormal behaviours, such as kicking out repeatedly or appear unaware of their surroundings
The Race Day Veterinarian may repeat these and other examination processes over time as changes in key indicators, such as heart rate, provide important information about the horse’s wellbeing.
What outcomes can you expect from a race day veterinary examination?
The main purpose of the race day veterinary exam is to identify any abnormalities and to provide first aid if required.
Race Day Veterinarians are not equipped with the equipment nor the facilities to make definitive diagnoses or provide ongoing treatment.
Many race day examinations deliver “no significant findings”.
This is the formal terminology applied to the examination report that is provided to the Race Day Stewards.
This outcome does not mean the horse has a clean bill of health. It simply means that the Race Day Veterinarian did not find any abnormalities within the limitations of the examination that can be performed at the races. It is common for horses to display clinically significant problems 24 to 48 hours after racing that were not detectable immediately post-race.
If the Race Day Veterinarian does identify a problem with the horse, they will provide immediate first aid and advise you to seek timely veterinary treatment from your usual treating veterinarian. Serious problems may require immediate referral to a specialist centre or euthanasia. Any treatments and instructions provided by the race day veterinarian will also be recorded on the official examination report and recorded by HRV Stewards.
There are several conditions associated with race day examinations that have automatic stand down periods applied. These are cardiac arrythmias (AHRR 101C), bleeding attacks (blood from the nostril AHRR Rule 101 and 101B), EIPH (Click here to view the HRV EIPH Endoscopic Examination Policy) and evidence of infectious diseases (AHRR 104).
The Race Day Veterinarian is the horse’s representative at races. The race day examination is an important part of ensuring animal welfare and integrity standards are maintained at harness racing meetings.
The examination provides information that can be used to develop a triaged horse treatment plan when indicated informs Race Day Stewards of any problems that can explain a deviation in form and is an important part of ensuring and demonstrating to the community that high animal welfare standards are maintained by the Victorian harness racing industry.