ICHA Conference Highlighted by Equine Welfare

2023 ICHA Conference at Saint-Cloud | Scoop Dyga

The 57th International Conference of Horseracing Authorities, focused this year on safeguarding equine welfare and exploring shifts in societal expectations and the sport's response around the world, took place on Oct. 2 at Saint-Cloud racetrack in Paris.

Organised by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), the day-long conference emphasized horse racing in a changing society, safeguarding equine welfare and explore shifts in societal expectations and the racing industry's response around the world.

“Today we continued what has been a chief mission throughout the life of the Federation: equine welfare,” IFHA Chair Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, who delivered the Conference's opening and closing remarks, said. “This Conference provides an opportunity to focus and build upon the significant body of work which has been carried out domestically and internationally over many years by our members to protect our equine athletes.

Moderated by racing presenter Nick Luck, speakers on the day included Professor Natalie Waran, Chair of the Independent Commission for Equine Ethics and Wellbeing for the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI); Lisa-Jane Graffard, General Secretary, Au-Delà des Pistes; Julie Harrington, Chief Executive, British Horseracing Authority (BHA); Najja Thompson, Executive Director, New York Thoroughbred Breeders' Inc. (NYTB); James Given, Director of Equine Regulation, Safety and Welfare, BHA; Josh Rubinstein, President, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club; Brian Stewart, Head of Veterinary Clinical Services, The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC); Sonia Wittreck, Stud Book & Doping Control, Head of Department, France-Galop; and Hiroshi Ito, Counselor of the Japan Racing Association (JRA).

During her speech, Waran presented key strategies for equine sports to proactively consider amidst changing societal expectations. This included increasing continuing education for anyone working hands-on with equine athletes to better their welfare.

“Our changing social values in relation to animals have affected different industries in different ways,” said Waran. “It is important to recognise that society does not distinguish between different equestrian sports. There is enough data out there to show that the concerns around horse involvement in sport are rising. The racing world must positively engage with both perception and reality and show real commitment to change to ensure positive welfare.”

Following her keynote, a panel of senior racing administrators including Lisa-Jane Graffard, General Secretary, Au-Delà des Pistes; Julie Harrington, Chief Executive, British Horseracing Authority (BHA); and Najja Thompson, Executive Director, New York Thoroughbred Breeders' Inc. (NYTB), shared their approaches and strategies to shape the narratives surrounding equine welfare and racing.

The next panel of the Conference featured leaders from racing administration and veterinary science who explored protecting the sport's equine athletes. Speakers included James Given, Director of Equine Regulation, Safety and Welfare, BHA; Josh Rubinstein, President, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club; Brian Stewart, Head of Veterinary Clinical Services, The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC); and Sonia Wittreck, Stud Book & Doping Control, Head of Department, France-Galop.

“Getting the balance right is part of training, but it is also something technology can help us with,” said Stewart. “If we do have a problem, we have to be able to achieve an accurate diagnosis, and that will guide our future management of that horse. Things are now coming together, and I am quite hopeful we might be able to make a significant difference.”

Also, Charles Scheeler, Chair of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) in the United States, gave an update on the organisation, including a review of the implementation of the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) program and future developments.

“HISA is working under the supervision of the Federal Trade Commission and in partnership with the members of the sport to transform horse racing,” Scheeler said. “The essence of this effort is the creation of an ecosystem of care surrounding horses. We remain excited about horse racing's future in the United States, and we recognise that we have a rich legacy to protect.”

The final session of the Conference looked in-depth at enhancing stakeholder engagement, specifically regarding public engagement and response in relation to equine welfare. Nevin Truesdale, the Chief Executive Officer of The Jockey Club (UK), began the session with a discussion of his organisation's experiences with effective resolution and communication management.

“We need to operate together on this,” said Truesdale. “Having a clear set of messages as an industry, everyone singing off the same sheet, became really important for us in the lead up and the aftermath of Epsom. We have to be relentless in continuing to make the sport safer and in telling that story. There is a persuadable audience, statistics show us that, but that will only work for us if we are clear on the changes we are making. Standing still on this is not optional.”

The first International Conference of Horseracing Authorities was organized and hosted by the Société d'Encouragement in Paris, France, on Oct. 9, 1967. Since 1994, the annual conference has been organized by the IFHA and The JRA became the official partner of the Conference beginning in 2021. This year's Conference convened delegates from about 40 different countries, with a number of other racing executives and media members in attendance.

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