Protecting the welfare of horses competing in bush races in NSW: Factsheet 20

1. Introduction

This code contains the minimum standards required to protect the welfare of horses competing in bush horse races.

The code has been developed as a response to an increase in the number of mountain or bush horse races, the absence of uniform rules and standards for the conduct of events, instances where riders have demonstrated a lack of care for the welfare of their horses, problems in course design and the increased prize money offered at these events. The combination of speed, hills, water, jumps, rider competitiveness, uneven terrain and close racing poses risks for competing horses. Some riders lack experience andride recklessly, and some horses are not fit for the task.

The code will be supplied to event organisers and will be regarded as a condition for conducting a mixed sports meeting involving events as defined below. It will complement the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 in safeguarding horse welfare.

2. Definitions

"Horse" includes stallion, mare, gelding, pony.

A "Bush Horse Race" is a race where horses race at high speed over a distance of greater than 1,000m possibly over jumps or through water and over terrain that is variable and covered by obstacles such as trees. It includes events described as mountain races.

A "Sprint Race" is a race where horses race at high speed over a distance of less than 1,000m on a course that is relatively level and free of obstacles.

"ABRA" is the Australian Bush Racing Association.

"Events organisers" includes the organising committee or group conducting the bush horse race.

"Event" is the entire racing program including heats, trials, warm ups, course familiarisation and races.

3. Veterinary Surgeons

3.1 It shall be mandatory to have a registered veterinary surgeon in attendance at the event at all times. At large events it may be necessary to engage more than one veterinary surgeon. The veterinary surgeon(s) must have equine experience.

3.2 There shall be a pre-race veterinary inspection of the horses to determine their fitness to start before each qualifying trial or race.

3.3 The veterinary inspection shall be carried out in accordance with the attached "Standards for Veterinary Inspection of Horses Competing in Bush Horse Races".

3.4 The veterinary surgeon shall have the power to order the withdrawal of lame, unfit, fatigued or injured horses at any time during the events.

3.5 Within 7 days of each Bush Horse Race meeting the veterinary surgeon shall complete the Veterinary Report - Bush Horse Races (this form is under review) (PDF, 46.97 KB) and forward copies to the Animal Welfare Unit of NSW Agriculture.

4. Competing Horses

4.1 Horses under 4 years of age shall not be permitted to compete in races. The permanent intermediate incisors shall be in wear.

4.2 Event organisers shall take measures to ensure that the same horse is presented for the pre-race veterinary inspection, qualifying trials and the bush horse race.

4.3 Lame, unfit or injured horses shall not be permitted to start in a race.

4.4 Any horse that is eliminated from a bush horse race, trial or heat shall not be permitted to start in another race on the same program without passing a full veterinary inspection.

4.5 Only horses that are presented for the event drug-free shall be permitted to compete. Race rules must contain provision for random pre-race and post-race drug surveillance and the disqualification of horses found to be racing whilst under the influence of drugs, in accordance with the attached "Rules of Bush Horse Racing Relating to Prohibited Substances".

4.6 The use of heart rate recovery standards is a suggested method of determining the fitness of horses participating in qualifying events for a bush horse race.

5. Course Design

5.1 The design of the course for the event shall test the skill of the horse and rider but not place unreasonable demands on the horses.

5.2 The veterinary surgeon in consultation with the ABRA course inspection committee shall have the power to order modification of the course if any part of it is considered dangerous to the horses.

5.3 The course must be inspected prior to the event by the ABRA course inspection committee and the veterinary surgeon.

5.4 The event organisers must alter the course if, in the opinion of the veterinary surgeon or the ABRA course inspection committee, adverse conditions such as heat and humidity or heavy going places unreasonable demands on competing horses.

5.5 Event organisers should ensure that all riders walk or ride over the course on which they will compete.

6. Riders

6.1 Any rider under any influence of drugs or liquor shall not be permitted to take part in a race.

6.2 Injured riders shall have a medical examination before riding in further races during the given event.

6.3 The event rules must contain provision to disqualify or discipline riders found guilty of dangerous riding, overriding of horses during competitions, riding under the influence of drugs or liquor or misrepresenting the identity of a horse.

6.4 All riders shall wear an Standards Australia approved riding helmet and riding boots with heels.

7. Gear

7.1 A gear inspection of all competing horses and riders shall take place before each race.

7.2 All saddles shall be Australian style leather Stock Saddles that weigh at least 10kg when fully mounted.

7.3 All horses must be shod with correctly fitting shoes.

7.4 All bandages shall be stitched.

7.5 Only bits of a type that are listed below shall be used on horses during races. Event organisers may prohibit riders from using any of bits i - x in the rules of that race.

i Ordinary snaffle with double-jointed mouthpiece.
ii Ordinary snaffle with double-jointed mouthpiece known as "French snaffle".
iii Ordinary snaffle with jointed mouthpiece.
iv Racing snaffle.
v Egg-butt snaffle (a) with cheeks; and (b) without cheeks.
vi Other type of snaffle with cheeks.
vii Snaffle with upper cheeks only.
viii Rubber snaffle, unjointed.
ix Unjointed snaffle.
x Running gag with snaffle bit.

7.6 All spurs shall be prohibited.

7.7 Riders shall not be permitted to carry hand held whips.

7.8 No martingales other than running martingales are to be used. Running martingales shall be properly fitted and shall not interfere with normal head carriage.

8. Injuries and Deaths

8.1 Equipment shall be available to enable transport of an injured horse from the course to a place for treatment and to allow prompt humane destruction of injured horses if necessary. A screen shall be available to shield a horse from public view during and after destruction.

8.2 Event organisers shall conduct an investigation into the death or destruction of horses during the race or in the following 24 hours.

8.3 A written report on the investigation, including a report from the attending veterinary surgeon as to the cause of injury or death, and action taken to prevent further injuries, shall be provided to the Animal Welfare Unit of NSW Agriculture within 14 days.

9. Drug Surveillance

9.1 Event organisers in consultation with the attending veterinary surgeon shall ensure that testing kits and appropriate facilities are available at events at which drug testing is to be conducted. Alternatively, provision for collection and analysis of specimens will be arranged.

9.2 Post race drug surveillance should take place to ensure that horses do not race whilst under the influence of drugs.

10. Race Supervision

10.1 The Event organisers shall ensure all qualifying trials and races are supervised by sufficient experienced stewards to render assistance to injured riders or horses, supervise riding behaviour, catch riderless horses and withdraw injured or fatigued horses.

11. Sprint Races and Novelty Races

11.1 These races should be conducted on courses that are free of obstacles or hazards and do not contain jumps, steep climbs or descents.

11.2 All the provisions of sections 3 to 10 shall apply to sprint races.

Standards for veterinary inspection of horses competing in bush horse races

The following guidelines are written to assist event organisers, veterinary surgeons and riders in the conduct of veterinary inspection of horses competing in bush horse races. Veterinary inspections are essential to protect the welfare of competing horses. The attending veterinary surgeon must have equine experience and be paid an appropriate professional fee.

1. Degree of examination

The intensity of the examination should be in proportion to the degree of risk posed by the race. Horses competing in sprint races or novelty type events on the same program may be given less scrutiny than horses competing in bush horse races. Horses should be examined before heats or qualifying trials as well as finals of events.

2. Initial Examination - Major Races

2.1 The horse should be examined individually whilst unsaddled, and with legs not bandaged.

2.2 The veterinarian should visually examine:

  • body condition
  • general attitude
  • signs of respiratory disease
  • girth and saddle area for galls, spur marks
  • legs for wounds and signs of injuries
  • mucous membrane
  • fit of shoes
  • age
  • normal ocular menace response
  • hydration status

2.3 There should be a closer examination of:

  • any leg wounds or swellings eg, flexor tendons, joints
  • mouth for any bit or teeth related damage
  • girth galls, saddle sores or spur marks
  • heart by auscultation
  • any other relevant factor

2.4 Lameness or gait abnormalities should be assessed by trotting the horse in a figure of eight on a loose rein.

Grading of lameness

Grade 0:     No lameness.

Grade 1:     Lameness is not observed at a walk but is recognisable at a trot. Typically, for the forelimbs, the horse drops his head down on the sound limb and raises it up to more normal height on the affected side. For the hind limb, a mild asymmetry in the tail-base rise, with a slightly shorter duration of tail-base rise is noted. No changes in head and neck movement are evident.

Grade 2:     An alteration in gait is noted at a walk, but no overt head movements are associated with it. At a trot, the lameness becomes obvious and some head and neck lifting occurs when the affected forelimb hits the ground. For the hind limb, a greater degree of asymmetry of tail-base is noted. A slight drooping of the head will also be noted when the opposite forelimb hits the ground, thereby reducing the weight of the affected rear limb.

Grade 3:     Lameness is obvious at a walk and trot. Head and neck lifting during weight bearing is a prominent feature for the forelimb, head nodding when the opposite forelimb hits the ground while trotting is obvious.

Grade 4:     A non-weight bearing lameness is present (eg, seen with fractures, foot abscesses and septic arthritis).

2.5 Any horse exhibiting consistent Grade 2 lameness (see table above) should be eliminated. A Grade 2 lameness is defined as an obvious lameness at the trot in which the lame leg can be defined. Bilateral lameness presenting as stiffness or reluctance to move also warrants elimination. Gait abnormalities should be noted.

2.6 Findings at the examination should be recorded for future reference.

2.7 If the examination at 2.2 and 2.3 reveals minor abnormalities, riders should be cautioned about protecting the horse during the race.

2.8 If the examination reveals major abnormalities where competition could exacerbate the injury, or the horse will have to endure unreasonable pain or suffering, the horse shall be eliminated. The site of wounds is particularly important and is often more important than the size of the wound.

2.9 Riders of overweight or underweight horses that appear poorly conditioned should be eliminated or cautioned to proceed according to the fitness of the horse.

3. Initial Examination - Minor Races

3.1 The horse should be examined whilst saddled as part of a general inspection of horses in that race.

3.2 Lameness should be assessed by observing the horses walking and trotting in a circle prior to the race.

3.3 Individual horses should be examined if gear inspection stewards note matters requiring further investigation.

4. Assessment of fitness to compete in a final

4.1 Horses with major abnormalities (2.8) or which are distressed, pyrexic, exhausted, tied up, lame or recover poorly after a heat or qualifying trial shall not be permitted to compete in the final.

4.2 If heart rate recovery is used to assess fitness after a heat, recordings should be made 30 minutes after the trial. Heart rate assessment should be performed so as to minimise the potential for excitement. To compete in a final a horse should have a heart rate of at least less than eighty beats per minute.

4.3 The pre-race lameness examination should be repeated.

5. First Aid

5.1 The event organisers should provide a vehicle and float for removal of injured horses from the course and a screen to place around horses that need to be destroyed.

5.2 The attending veterinary surgeon should have first aid equipment including:

  • stethoscope
  • thermometer
  • oral rehydration material and stomach tube
  • intravenous fluids
  • NSAIDs, sedatives, analgesics, tetanus antitoxin, antibiotics
  • suture kits and local anaesthetic
  • material for Robert Jones Bandage
  • bandaging gear for wounds
  • a means of destroying an injured horse
  • a salvage splint or fibreglass casting material
  • hoof testers

6. Deaths

6.1 If a horse dies or is destroyed during or after an event, the veterinary surgeon should be assisted by the event organisers and/or ABRA to establish the cause of death. A post mortem examination should be conducted if a horse dies during or after an event, or is destroyed. A post mortem examination need not be conducted if a horse is destroyed as a result of an injury where the diagnosis is obvious. If the gross post mortem does not reveal the cause of death beyond any doubt, appropriate samples should be collected for submission to a recognised laboratory.

7. Veterinary Report

7.1 Within 7 days of each Bush Horse Race the attending veterinary surgeon should complete the Veterinary Report- Bush Horse Races (this form is under review) (PDF, 46.97 KB) form with assistance from race committee and return it to the Animal Welfare Unit of NSW Agriculture.

Rules of bush horse racing relating to prohibited substances


1. "Prohibited Substance" means any substance having a direct or an indirect action on the central or peripheral nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the alimentary digestive system, the musculo-skeletal system or the uro-genital system of a horse. Prohibited substances include analgesics, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory agents, blood coagulants, diuretics, hormones and their synthetic counterparts, corticosteroids, anabolic steroids, local anaesthetics, muscle relaxants, anti-hypertensives and tranquillisers. Prohibited substances also include vitamins administered by injection.

2.    To assist in the control of racing, the veterinary surgeon or the ABRA course inspection committee shall be accorded with the following power:

(j) To make or cause to be made any test in their opinion desirable to determine whether any prohibited substance as defined in 1. has been administered to any horse.

3    (a) An Analyst’s report of a prohibited substance or a metabolite or artefact of a prohibited substance in any sample from a horse shall be evidence that a prohibited substance as defined in 1. has been administered to such horse, unless the contrary be established.

(b) An Analyst’s report of the presence in unusual or abnormal amounts of endogenous substances or vitamins in any sample taken from a horse shall be evidence that a prohibited substance as defined in 1. has been administered to such horse, unless the contrary be established.

(c) An Analyst’s report of a level of plasma total carbon dioxide (TC02) in excess of 37 mmol/litre in any sample taken from a horse shall be evidence that a prohibited substance as defined in 1. has been administered to such horse, unless the contrary be established.

4.    ABRA or the event organisers may punish:

Any person who at any time administers, or causes to be administered, any prohibited substance as defined in 1.:-

i) for the purpose of affecting the performance or behaviour of a horse in a race or of preventing its starting in a race; or

ii) which is detected in any pre- or post-race sample taken on the day of any race.

5.     Any horse which is found by the veterinarian, ABRA course inspection committee or the event organisers to have had administered to it any prohibited substance as defined in 1. may be disqualified from any race in which it has been started on that day.

6.     When any horse is found to have had administered to it any prohibited substance as defined in 1., the owner, rider or any other person who was in charge of such horse at any relevant time, may be punished, unless he satisfies ABRA and the event organisers that he had taken all proper precautions to prevent the administration of the prohibited substance.

7.    No person shall have in his possession where a meeting is being conducted any prohibited substance, syringe, needle or other instrument which could be used to administer a prohibited substance to a horse unless that person shall have obtained the permission of the relevant organisers to be in such possession, or satisfied them that such possession is for his lawful and personal use. Any person found contravening this rule may be punished and any such substance or items may be confiscated.