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All change for look of hurdles and fences after welfare study

Hurdles and steeplechase fences in Britain are to be gradually changed in colour from March 14 after research into equine vision undertaken at Exeter University and utilised by the Horse Welfare Board.

The study, which was commissioned by the BHA and funded by the Racing Foundation, used camera equipment across 11 racecourses to establish which colours were most visible to horses when used on the take-off boards, guard rails and the top boards of an obstacle.

These elements have traditionally been orange, but an understanding of horses’ dichromatic vision led researchers to the conclusion that, through equine eyes, the colour orange was not distinct from the green shade of the turf.

Blue, bright yellow and white were all more easily distinguishable to horses and the latter colour was eventually chosen for its resistance to fading.

Traditional orange obstacles as viewed by horses and humans
Traditional orange obstacles as viewed by horses and humans (GBR)

The theory was tested on 14 horses trained at the National Hunt yard of Richard Phillips, who corroborated the findings of the study and said: “Having been involved in the research undertaken by Exeter University and having used white obstacles for over three years now, I am convinced that changing the colour of jumps will be of immense benefits to the horses, riders and the sport as a whole.”

The transition will begin at Stratford and will take place over 10 months, with point-to-point tracks set to follow suit ahead of the 2022-23 season.

Barry Johnson, chair of the Horse Welfare Board, said: “This important project is an example of how British racing uses advanced scientific and veterinary research to constantly improve racehorse welfare.

The new white obstacles as viewed by horses and humans
The new white obstacles as viewed by horses and humans (GBR)

“Looking through the eyes of the horse to understand how they perceive their world, and making changes because of this new knowledge, shows how racing is continuously striving to increase the safety of all participants in our sport, both human and equine.”

Former trainer James Given, who is now the director of equine health and welfare for the BHA and a member of the Horse Welfare Board, added: “We are determined to drive constant improvement and to make reasoned, well-researched and evidence-based changes which further reduce risk in the sport on a long-term basis and which help to improve safety factors for our horses.”

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