Strategic Plan for Horse Safety in Works

A strategic plan on equine health and safety measures is being developed.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association is formulating a “strategic plan” for equine health and safety and will seek support from various industry organizations when the document is released, probably in early fall.

NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop revealed the NTRA’s intentions July 18 at the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association summer convention in Hershey, Pa. Waldrop took part in a forum on the welfare and safety of the horse.

Waldrop said the NTRA would devise the plan and “have people sign on the dotted line” in support. Though specifics aren’t yet available, the document would encompass many issues already being discussed, such as anabolic steroids, toe grabs, and jockeys’ whips.

It remains to be seen what steps will taken to encourage widespread adoption of the strategic plan. Waldrop used the word "prod."

Some racing organizations already have adopted or plan to adopt “house rules” to ban use of toe grabs as recommended by The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee. But Waldrop and others believe national adoption of recommendations is necessary given the recent congressional hearing into problems in horse racing.

“We can’t talk our way out of this problem,” Waldrop said.

Officials said they doubt there will be federal action—in the form of legislation to govern racing—this year, but 2009 isn’t out of the question. There has been talk by a few members of Congress to use the Interstate Horseracing Act, which governs interstate simulcasts, to gain compliance with various regulations concerning equine health and safety.

“I think in the near term it will have very little traction,” Waldrop said of federal legislation. “This is an election year, and they’re not going to spend a lot of time on what is not a core issue. But it could come up next year. We have a window of six to eight months to act.”

During the June congressional hearing, lawmakers repeatedly noted no group in the horseracing industry has the authority to mandate change. Industry officials said July 18 they believe adoption of the model rule that bans use of anabolic steroids in racehorses, for example, is proof the industry can regulate itself.

Waldrop used the National HBPA forum as a means to appeal to horsemen. “We’ll work with you,” he said. “We’re going to lead (the effort), but we need you to work with us.”