Every year, the University of Liverpool’s Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital provides specialist veterinary support for the Grand National, the most prestigious event on the UK horse racing calendar.
During the three day festival our Equine Veterinarians will work at Aintree Racecourse and enable access to Leahurst’s state of the art hospital facilities for any horses requiring specialist care.
Ahead of the event, Dr David Stack, Senior Lecturer in Equine Surgery, spoke to BBC Radio Merseyside about the hospital’s work and the important focus on the care of horses in racing.
Tell us more about what you do?
Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital is a referral hospital and also a teaching veterinary hospital. Our primary priority is to take care of the animals and horses that are sent to us by our referred veterinarians, and secondly, to train the next generation of veterinarians. Therefore, we are fortunate to work with some of the most dedicated, energetic, and intelligent veterinary students in the country to provide care for our horses.
“We all sincerely hope our services will not be required during a Grand National, but we are here if needed. We will have a number of teams on standby at all times with specializations in a variety of different fields that should cover any eventuality.”
What kinds of tools and techniques do you have for horse care?
“We are very fortunate here at the Leahurst campus because we have every piece of modern equipment we could ask for. We have a wide-bore CT scanner, an MRI scanner and a nuclear scintigraphy unit (bone scan). Really everything the NHS has to offer for our human patients. Available for horses here.
“We also have cameras that can investigate problems inside horses, including those that can come aboard while horses are exercising to assess their airways.”
How much priority is horse welfare in horse racing today?
“Horse welfare is an absolute priority for everyone in the industry; from grooms in racecourses to owners, trainers and veterinarians who work with racehorses. The British Horseracing Authority’s Horse Welfare Board tries to look at and improve the welfare of animals. The board has devised a five-year strategy To improve the wellbeing of horses called A Good Life to Live which aims to improve wellbeing all the way from the moment they are born to their retirement date and beyond.”
How has the safety of training courses improved over the years?
In terms of facilities and service delivery, significant improvements have been made in recent years. The Aintree course for example includes such things as pre-race vet checks, proper post-race facilities for calming the horses and other safety measures such as steering loose horses, horses that have knocked their riders off, away from the main pack.
“Research by colleagues at the University of Exeter found that horses can see jumping fences better if they are painted white, so this is also a change that is going to happen and the BHA has indicated that this change will come in time.”
Finally, will you be watching the race on Saturday?
“I would definitely have my eyes open for that and it would be a bit evil if I didn’t support the Irish, so I’d be cheering Rachel Blackmore on board the Minella Times!”
Listen to the full interview on BBC Sounds from 1 hour 25 minutes