For the past few weeks, we have been running a series of responses to The Jockey Club's proposed cap on a stallion's book at 140 mares. Many people expressed the feeling that there were more pressing problems to which the industry should attend. So we asked a group of respondents, `What would you fix first?'
We need to improve the health, welfare, and performance of our athletes by investing in and applying the evidence from sports science in the way that human sports have. To best do this, we would need to develop a HPMO (High Performance Management Organization) which is standard for many Olympic sports, often going hand in hand with a National Governing Body.
Too often we think about these things in a negative way: how are we stopping breakdowns, why are horses retiring earlier? But if the horses themselves are healthier, have an easier time running, if they're on the best surfaces possible, if we are using best practices in their management, training and recovery, all those questions are more easily answered. What positive steps can we take to advance the health and welfare of our horses?
An HPMO is there to fund research, develop assistive technology and disseminate best practices throughout a sport. Its knowledge and innovation would promote horses to train easier, work better, to make more starts, have longer careers–these things go hand in hand. Quite frankly, we don't spend any real money researching these things. Look at human athletes and the heart monitors they wear, the sleep monitors they wear, the level of testing of their electrolytes, there's a whole advancement in human sports science based on the recovery of the athlete. When is the last double blind study that we have done on the racehorses? What have we invested in R&D? Quite frankly, we don't do nearly enough. We are using methods that are outdated to say the least.
The only way to fund things in this industry is for everybody to pay a little, and that goes to the breeders, the racetracks, the owners, the ADWs; everyone should pay a little. If you're in the business or profiting from the Thoroughbred, you should be helping to support our equine athletes. That shares the burden so that it's not on anyone in particular. Typically people in our business always say, “Oh that's a great idea. Hey, you pay for it.” Everyone should pay a little bit and then there's no burden for anybody.
You can't improve our image until you improve the product–the horses themselves. I hate to say it like this, but the equine athletes are the core of our product, and if we don't spend the time and money protecting and advancing them as athletes–improving their recovery, improving their injury rate, improving their longevity, improving their ability to run–you can have as many PR campaigns as you want; it just doesn't matter.