As horse race stops a nation, research shows better horse welfare could improve rider safety

27 October 2022

More Australians are killed every year by horses than any other animal' but new research is linking improved horse welfare with better safety for riders.

CQUniversity PhD candidate Karen Luke has put Australia's $9 billion horse industry under the microscope' and asked riders about the factors in their riding injuries.

"What I found was that injuries happened when horses were acting out' and they were acting out when they were hurt' or stressed' or in pain'" the psychology researcher explained.

"If this was a person' we'd be worried about their mental health and wellbeing.

"My research showed when horse welfare is poor' that's when riders are getting hurt – and things like spurs and whips don't make riding safer.

"Horse racing is more dangerous than motorcycle racing – so there's an imperative to change the experience for both horses and riders."

Ms Luke's research' Unravelling the riddle of rider safety in the horse industry' highlights opportunities for systemic change to improve horse welfare in the industry.

"For instance' keeping horses in stables is very convenient for people' but research shows stables make horses physically and mentally sick' it's like being in permanent lockdown – horse welfare is best when horses live out in a paddock with other horses'" she said.

Other factors undermining horse welfare include riding immature horses' frequent transportation' whipping' and equipment like tongue ties' rearing bits' and electronic shock devices such as jiggers.

Ms Luke said the racing industry is also under external pressure to improve horse welfare' as the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses campaign "Nup to the Cup" gains pace.

"Every Cup Day' and every spring racing season' we see growing community intolerance of poor horse welfare threaten the horse racing industry'" she said.

"Horse racing is economically and culturally important' so creating a sustainable future for the industry is a priority – and the key to creating an ethically sustainable horse racing industry is to recognise' acknowledge and address its horse welfare challenges.

"Australia has the opportunity to lead the world in making welfare improvements in horse racing that are in line with community expectations - Australians have a strong cultural connection to horses' from the Light Horsemen to Winx' and an equally strong interest in their welfare."

Watch Ms Luke present her horse racing research for 3 Minute Thesis research communication competition here.