An investigation of trainers' views of behavioural problems in thoroughbred racehorses in training and racing
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 22:23 by Elaine A. Barrett
Pressures to optimise resources in the thoroughbred horseracing industry result in high wastage rates. Typically wastage has been viewed in terms of physical or veterinary causes, while the potential influence of behavioural and temperamental aspects has largely been ignored. There is evidence that behavioural problems and temperamental unsuitability can affect performance. The current study explored the views of Australian thoroughbred racehorse trainers with regards to behaviour-related problems and temperament and their impact in training and racing. A random sample of thoroughbred racehorse trainers from metropolitan and provincial New South Wales, Australia participated in a structured interview. Topics covered included behaviour-related problems in the thoroughbred racehorse; their impact; approaches to management; the importance of temperament in performance; and the extent to which behaviour-related problems contributed to decisions to discontinue horses from racing (wastage). Thirty-seven trainers were interviewed. 'Nervous/not relaxed' unwelcome behaviours were the most commonly identified (34.3% of trainers), followed by adjustment to the stable routine (28.6%) and stereotypies (22.9%). Although commonly reported, the stereotypic behaviour crib-biting/wind-sucking (identified by 89.2% of trainers), was considered to have a severe impact by only one trainer (2.7%). In contrast, while being accident-prone was less commonly identified (56.8%), its impact was more often considered severe (27.0%). Temperament was considered very important in racehorse performance, a focus of and amenable to management, and not considered a significant contributor to wastage. Trainers are an important source of information, reporting behaviour- and temperament-related problems in thoroughbred racehorses along with a confidence in their management ability. These problems can be main factors in horse discontinuation, but infrequently. While behaviour-related problems have largely been neglected in wastage studies, they warrant further study. There is a need to examine the epidemiology and risk factors, with a focus on identifying the 'at-risk' horse, as well as management methods, their effectiveness and any implications for the thoroughbred racehorse industry.