On Friday, I spent a truly inspiring day at the inaugural Horse Racing Ireland Equine Welfare Symposium in Co Kildare. The event was sold out and had a waiting list for tickets, which in itself painted a healthy portrait of the level of interest in equine safety and care within the racing and equestrian community.

Horse racing has such a relentless lens on it, it is often the innovators in the thoroughbred field that pave the way for progress for the entire equestrian sector. The bank of professionals who spoke at the symposium on Friday were among these innovators. Vet behaviourist, Dr Orla Doherty, presented a clever and practical proposal for training racehorses with a working consciousness of the career they may have beyond the racing track. CAFRE’s Dr Rachel Annan’s fascinating research on how to make a good life for a racehorse provoked a lively debate on whether or not turn out could or should become mandatory for all racehorses.

Then came the technologists with groundbreaking projects, many of which are changing the safety and care of horses around the globe. RaceIQ is known predominantly as a sports statistics business. They delivered a convincing presentation on how racing could harness the power of their new in-race performance data to improve welfare outcomes for racehorses. Irish racing now has tracking data for every race – both flat and jumps racing – but as yet, this information is not harnessed into welfare insights. Information such as stride length and the thoroughbred’s speed before and after jumps, when combined with veterinary records and horse biometrics, could provide invaluable information. Not only does it help to understand the performance of each racehorse individually, but also the safety of the racecourses.

Horse racing has such a relentless lens on it, it is often the innovators in the thoroughbred field that pave the way for progress for the entire equestrian sector

Gait analysis company Sleip AI were also present to showcase their groundbreaking app which detects horse gait asymmetries. The app has been developed to support vets in lameness assessments and diagnoses. Recently, it has been used by racehorse trainers to monitor a horse’s movement over longer periods, flagging up any small changes long before race day and possibly avoiding safety risks. The app is being explored beyond racing by the international governing body of equestrian sports, FEI, for potential use across all equestrian sport.

In memoriam

I don’t think there’s an equestrian anywhere who doesn’t have a heavy heart this week following the news of the tragic loss of event rider Georgie Campbell (37) at Bicton International Horse Trials in Devon on Sunday. Georgie competed in over 200 events, including five-star Badminton and Burghley, winning on six occasions and was a familiar face within the community of eventing.

If you find yourself needing to talk, Riders Minds, a bespoke resource dedicated to supporting the mental health and well-being of all equestrians, are offering 24/7 support via their live text line on+44 (0)7480488103 or as a live webchat at ridersminds.org.

Don’t be alone if you are struggling.