Racing Victoria: Medicare for Horses program preventing catastrophic injuries in thoroughbred racehorses
Victoria’s pioneering “Medicare for Horses” program has saved dozens of racehorses from potentially catastrophic injuries in its first year.
More than 200 racehorses have undergone advanced diagnostic imaging since Racing Victoria introduced the program in mid 2021, in which they cover half the cost of a range of scans to encourage trainers and owners to use them for early detection and prevention of injury.
Thirty-five horses were found to have potentially serious injuries, allowing their owners to get on the front foot by reducing their workload, spelling them for a period or pursuing treatment.
RV’s general manager of veterinary services, Grace Forbes, said being able to identify potential harm early contributed to “a horse having a longer racing career (and) exiting racing in a fit and healthy condition”, and could also save equine lives.
“The fatality injury rate in Victoria is among the lowest in the world, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to improve on that, and reduce those more serious injuries,” she said.
The program – believed to be a world-first – saves owners and trainers as much as $1600 per scan, making it viable for them to access computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and scintigraphy (bone scanning) technologies.
RV also provides grants of up to $300 for specialist vet appointments and $200 for overnight hospitalisation if required.
Dr Forbes said seeing large and small trainers from both metro and country areas take up Medicare for Horses in its first year had been “really pleasing”.
“The great stories are when someone says, ‘without this subsidy, that type of advanced diagnostic imaging would have been out of my reach’,” she said.
Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Mike Moroney used the scheme to order a scintigraphy scan for five-year-old mare Tokorangi, finding she “presented lame in the hind limbs”.
“She was given time in the paddock and treated on her return, and has remained very sound since,” he said.
“Medicare for Horses allows an extra tool for trainers and vets to make a better diagnosis and help horses return to racing.”
Dr Forbes said RV would soon expand and make the program more accessible by acquiring a second standing CT scanner and Australia’s first positron emission tomography (PET) scanner for horses. Victoria obtained the nation’s first standing CT scanner in 2019.
She said Medicare for Horses built upon the world-leading $11.5m Equine Limb Injury Prevention Program (ELIPP) launched in Victoria in 2018.
Sponsored by RV, the University of Melbourne and the Victorian Government, ELIPP brings together mechanical engineers, bone biologists, veterinary surgeons and data scientists to work towards better understanding equine injuries.
“If you can understand how an injury occurs, you can provide guidance to trainers on what they can do to prevent it,” she said.
All Melbourne Cup competitors are also required to undergo scans before competing, including international horses before and after travelling to Australia.
New documentary Here for the Horses, hosted by AFL premiership player Josh Gibson and featuring star jockey Jamie Kah, explores the topic of equine welfare in Victoria’s thoroughbred racing industry.
It can be streamed on 7plus, will be aired on Channel 7 at 10pm on September 22 and 10.45am on October 1, and on Racing.com Channel 78 at 8pm on September 25.
Originally published as Racing Victoria’s Medicare for Horses program off to a flying start