Five ways to make horse racing more humane right now (part 2)

3. End two-year-old racing

Horses do not fully mature until they are about five, and many equestrian disciplines do not allow horses younger than four to compete.

Thoroughbreds are worked much younger. To train for a two-year-old race, horses are broken in as yearlings. Because all foals born in a certain year are put in the same age class, late-born foals can race when they are as young as 16 months.

A study by the University of Sydney in 2013 analysed the race records of 115,000 Australian thoroughbreds over 10 years and found that “for those thoroughbreds that have started racing at two no ill effect can be detected”.

The study still advised caution before racing a two-year-old.

4. Improve post-racing retirement and tracking

Last week Racing Victoria announced an additional $25m investment in the retirement, retraining, and humane euthanasia of racehorses.

It also promised an audit of industry retirement statistics – which inaccurately state that less than 1% of racehorses go to slaughter – and supports the development of a national horse traceability register, which is currently the subject of a senate inquiry.

A traceability scheme would provide accurate data on the whole-of-life trajectory for racehorses – and other horses – and provide the number and provenance of horses killed at knackeries or export slaughterhouses.

It could also be used to discourage indiscriminate and excessive breeding by requiring breeders to pay a levy to register a foal at birth, and tackle what is known as “wastage’” in the thoroughbred industry.

5. Ban tongue ties

A tongue tie is a rubber band that is wrapped around the horse’s tongue and then around their lower jaw. It is designed to prevent the horse from getting its tongue over the bit, which makes it difficult to control, and it is commonly used in both thoroughbred and standardbred (harness) racing.

The racing industry says it also helps keep a horse’s airways clear so it can breathe more easily. A 2002 study said that ties may prevent dorsal displacement of the soft palate in individual cases but is “not effective in the majority”. DDSP can limit oxygen intake and decrease athletic performance.

Animal welfare groups have called for it to be banned, saying they increase stress and can cause lacerations, bruising and swelling.