Unregulated horse racing continues to pose risks

Over 100 bush tracks pose a threat of spreading infectious diseases in horses

By Coco Lederhouse
Published: 22 March 2023


A persistent and potentially growing concern, according to experts, is the running of unsanctioned, informal horse races.

On Jan. 9, the AVMA House of Delegates approved a new AVMA policy condemning unregulated horse racing (PDF) during its regular winter session.

The policy states that the AVMA condemns unregulated racing of equids because of threats to animal health and welfare, such as infectious disease, administration of illegal substances, and abusive practices.

“The bush tracking situation of today is very sophisticated,” said Dr. Angela Pelzel-McCluskey, an equine epidemiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Veterinary Services in Fort Collins, Colorado. “They communicate all online. Their fan base is expanding exponentially because of their use of social media to advertise and market their races.”

Dr. Pelzel-McCluskey oversees the federal response to outbreaks of reportable equine diseases nationwide. She said there are over 100 known bush tracks in the United States and hundreds more that haven’t been investigated. There are bush tracks in every state.

A key distinction between sanctioned and unsanctioned racing is that there are no rules for horse or rider safety in unsanctioned racing, Dr. Pelzel-McCluskey said. Race surfaces are not maintained, and no protocols are in place to protect the riders and horses from catastrophic breakdown. Injuries are common, and horses are subjected to excessive whipping and electronic shock devices.

And unlike sanctioned racing, there are not track veterinarians on-site at bush tracks to examine every horse, nor is there monitoring of medications or restricted drugs.

To see the full version of this story, visit the AVMA News website.