Driver Representative Consultative Forum
Last week (26 April), HRA hosted a vital and I believe positive consultation.
Twelve respected and very knowledgeable participants came together to represent drivers, strongly present their position and begin working with HRA to map the path to whip-free racing.
The forum comprised two delegates selected by each State Controlling Body. Their job was to consider how to maintain safety and the practicalities of whip-free racing, and in training.
I will not underplay the difficulty of this task. Change is always hard, and it was clear in the feedback to the Executive that there were many legitimate concerns raised.
Nevertheless, this group was more than equal to the task of working through the concerns, and it delivered some positive results already.
The first was to agree to a general approach to trialing whip-free racing using a prototype safety device at trials in Carrick and Hobart, in Tasmania. This included the formulation of a questionnaire to help with uniform feedback on both the appropriateness of the device, practicalities of the draft rule and horse responsiveness. These initial trials will be held tomorrow (Carrick) and again on Monday, 8 May (Hobart).
The second was to continue to discuss design options for the safety device. Initial feedback was that the device looked a bit heavy and bulky; require considerable arm movement; and get caught in the wind.
The third was to agree to retain the use of the current whip in horse training and breaking.
The fourth was to retain the services of Dr Andrew McLean (who attended the forum as a guest) to provide advice and education to industry participants.
Without presuming anything about the final use of a safety device in whip-free racing or a whip in training, let me acknowledge that these decisions represent all that is great about this code.
In difficult circumstances, and with goodwill, the representatives are working towards the common goal - to keep building an industry that is safe, entertaining, profitable and sustainable.
Training for whip-free racing
The decision on using the whip in training was an important decision by the Representative Forum. This recommendation was supported by equine expert, Dr Andrew McLean.
I am pleased to say that the HRA Executive accepted this recommendation from the driver representatives at our last meeting.
Dr McLean also spoke to the group about training techniques, including using whips in training, as a step toward linking a horse’s responses to other non-whip cues – cues that can be used in racing.
There was much interest in Dr McLean’s science-based training advice, and jurisdictions may well seek his support to help advise owners, trainers and drivers in the move to whip-free racing.
At the request of the driver representatives, HRA will also seek to arrange an instructional seminar/s with Dr McLean which will be filmed and posted online for those unable to attend in person. The exact nature, format and location of these seminar/s will also be worked through with the representatives to ensure the greatest benefit from them for all participants.
The Safety Device
A central factor that must be considered without compromise is the safety of drivers, trainers, staff, owners and horses at all times.
The operation and effectiveness of the safety device is vital to this, and it has always been the intention of the HRA Executive to ensure that drivers carry some sort of device to maintain safety in racing and training.
The prototype has only just landed in Australia and will be utilised on 6 and 8 May for the Tasmanian trials, and for trials in other States if they like.
The representative group remain concerned about the appropriateness of the proposed device and has worked on key areas about which they would like feedback to help determine the effectiveness of the safety device, and any further modifications required.
This includes things like:
Was the device appropriate for safety?
Where and how to carry the device?
How did horses respond if/when used?
Did the horse move up to the mobile safely?
Length, weight and flexibility of the device?
The appearance of the device?
Was the horse’s reaction time ok?
Were you able to adequately communicate instructions to your horse?
Impacts on momentum?
The new draft rule
The National Rule Committee has begun drafting a new rule, which was put to the representative group.
With the proviso of using the whip in training, the current draft rule remains as follows:
Rule 156 (draft)
(1) A whip shall not be used on a race track during a race meeting.
(2) A driver shall at all times when driving a horse in a race carry an approved safety device.
(3) A driver shall only use an approved safety device for safety purposes.
(4) The Stewards shall in their discretion determine safety purposes, but without limitation, those purposes include the following:-
a) Where a horse is shifting ground, likely to cause injury to another horse and/or driver.
b) Where a horse has baulked, likely to cause injury to another horse and/or driver.
(5) A driver shall hold a rein in each hand at all times unless he or she is adjusting approved gear.
(6) A driver who fails to comply with sub-rules (1), (2), (3) or (5) is guilty of an offence.
There was concern also about how successful Stewards could be in monitoring the rule, particularly the consistency of applying the rule in a variety of circumstances.
The Executive acknowledges this and, in the transition, will ensure discussions, consultation and training with stewards about the best methods for monitoring and assessing proper use for safety purposes, is undertaken.
The main next steps will of course be the Tasmanian trials, any other trials that may follow, and the reporting of these outcomes.
Like all of us, I look forward with anticipation to hearing what the drivers report back, and I will of course convey this to you all when I can.
It is also hoped that there will be further meetings with the driver representatives and other industry participants as we move towards whip free racing.
Harness Racing Australia