COVID-19 presents new challenges for the keep and care of horses

Horse Racing

COVID-19 presents new challenges for the keep and care of horses

Vet Dr Sophia Ramlal says fortunately the current situation at Caymanas Park allows for training in the equine pool, racetrack


Friday, March 27, 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic is currently wreaking havoc on human health and freedoms worldwide.

Horse racing has not been spared, with the majority of tracks in affected countries discontinuing racing, rescheduling major events, and even requiring the removal of horses from the racing compound in at least one instance.

As racehorses are wholly dependent on humans, owners, grooms, trainers, veterinarians, among others, for their health and wellness, growing restrictions on everyday movement and the closure of racetracks necessitate a radical rethink of how our thoroughbreds will be successfully managed through this crisis.

This is of particular importance when their caretakers are operating on short reins, not having the financial support provided by purses and gaming and while facing the ever-growing possibility of exposure to coronavirus themselves.

Training regimens, nutrition, and general health are always the key areas to be addressed in managing racehorses; all are to be revisited in the context of the indefinite suspension of racing as currently obtains in Jamaica and other racing jurisdictions.

There can never be a good time for a pandemic, but the fact is that, it has hit on the eve of the Classic season and that places added strain on the horsemen. This now forces the rescheduling of these important races (and their prep races) and a 'dial-down' of the training programmes for the three-year-olds preparing for these races.

Fortunately, the current situation at Caymanas Park allows for training in both the equine pool and the racetrack. Trainers, while seeking to maintain fitness in their charges, will no doubt be pursuing regimens that reduce the frequency and/or distance of fast works (gallops) while increasing less intense training such as cantering and swimming for the three-year-olds and older horses.

Local two-year-olds were slated to commence racing in 12 weeks time on Derby Day (June 28). Under normal circumstances, this cohort of horses would be enjoying their introduction to limited distance fast works at this time on the racing calendar.

The needed long-term benefits of the training of these youngsters at this point in their physical and racing development require that radical changes are not made in their standard training practices.

Track work is crucial to the strengthening of their growing bones and muscles, and missing this window of opportunity might impact future racing soundness. It is not the best course of action.

Regardless of the age/stage of a racehorse, they must be kept in age/stage - appropriate work to ward off health challenges such as leg edema (stocking up), muscle loss, weakening of bones, and exercise intolerance.

Diet and supplementation must align with training demands. As such, horses with reduced assignments will require diet adjustments, particularly as it relates to grain and performance supplement consumption. Failure to make proportionate downward adjustments for horses that are expected to be training and racing less can result in colic, undesirable weight gains, and overly energetic horses.

Routine health care such as vaccination, deworming, hoof, and dental care are vital even in the face of a suspension of racing and scheduling of these activities should be maintained in accordance with racing rules and best practices.

Essential care of racehorses relies on human intervention and, as such maintaining a cadre of healthy grooms, trainers, vets, owners, feed suppliers, exercise riders, and others in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic with its fluid and yet to be determined economic impact is critical to the stability of horse racing.

At the core, the human-horse bond and codependencies for the sustenance of life and income remain unchanged, and the human element will have to hone the best mix of strategies to keep the 'Sport of Kings' galloping under current unprecedented conditions.

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