The NHA prides itself in delivering a high level of veterinary care to compliment the control of racing thoroughbreds under its jurisdiction.  The veterinary wellbeing and welfare of racehorses are key aspects in the regulation of horseracing in South Africa and abroad.  The sustainability of the industry rests solely on a sound, race ready horse.  We are fortunate to be honoured by these animals for enriching the lives of those associated with them and are duty bound to care for these horses and afford them the respect they so justly command.

The NHA has 3 full-time veterinarians that monitor the welfare and health of racing thoroughbreds throughout South Africa and Zimbabwe.  We aim to have 2 veterinarians present at all race meetings.  Often this requires the services of experienced private veterinarians to compliment the team.  All veterinary functions are practised to standards set by our stakeholders and the South African Veterinary Council.  Our facilities are registered and comply with the requirements of the South African Veterinary Council.  The Equine Welfare and Veterinary department is committed to fulfil these duties and keep abreast with international standards.

Channels of communication exist among the racing controllers, studbook, stipendiary stewards and veterinarians within the NHA.  This communication is a vital ingredient of our recipe of successfully growing in the sport of horseracing.  Ongoing statistical monitoring and analyses of racing is of little value without the input and support of facilities such as Onderstepoort’s Equine Research Centre and The South African Equine Veterinary Association.  We maintain a close relationship with these role players to share and grow our knowledge of horses.  We applaud the impact that private equine practitioners make on the health and performance of racehorses and endeavour to support our colleagues in the industry.  This synergy maintains a transparency that helps us address issues with urgency and good practice.  The sharing of information assures the industry of progress, growth and continual communication.
A primary duty of the racing veterinarian is our presence at all race meetings to monitor the health and soundness of horses prior to, during and after racing.  Prompt access to an injured horse on the track is of utmost importance to the NHA.  Therefore, an equipped veterinary vehicle is required to follow a race closely from start to finish.  Every second counts when saving a life and we at the NHA pride ourselves in the prompt and precise actions that we are capable of taking in the event of an emergency.

All areas are continuously evaluated from the saddling enclosure, to racing, to post-race examinations. Many such examinations are requested by the jockeys and trainers.  A horse may subsequent to an evaluation from the veterinary panel be declared fit to race or disallowed to compete.  When there is an indication that a horse is potentially problematic or a risk, should it continue racing, the veterinarian may impose a suspension on the horse.  In order to return to racing, certain criteria must be met before the suspension is lifted.  Any problem related to misconduct on the part of a jockey or trainer is liable to a fine being issued or an enquiry being opened in terms of our rules.  Misconduct is regarded as a serious offence.

Nothing outweighs the safety and best interests of the horse, however, due consideration to the preparation of these athletes by dedicated trainers and the interests of the betting public is never overlooked when deciding on the outcome of examinations by race day veterinarians. Each horse, trainer, jockey and owner should be afforded the fairest opportunity to participate to the best of their ability.  The importance of these evaluations goes beyond the soundness of a horse to participate in such a high level sport and encompasses an array of scenarios. Should a horse perform below the expected level, the Stipendiary Board may request an examination of the particular horse to confirm possible injuries that may or may not have played a role in the poor performance.  Should these evaluations not produce an outcome, the horse is referred to a private veterinarian.  The trainer and private veterinarian is obliged to report back on the condition of the horse.  These reports are duly noted and the necessary action taken.

Other than race day duties, our veterinarians are diligent in monitoring the misuse or abuse of medications by regular, unannounced visits and inspections to training yards and facilities.  Horses may at any time during their careers be subjected to out-of-competition testing for banned, controlled or undeclared medications that have been administered.  Positive screens on these horses are regarded as serious an offence as those on race days.  A good understanding of the rules and regulations of the NHA by trainers and veterinary professionals is essential in avoiding unnecessary contraventions.  Of equal importance are the stable inspections conducted together with experienced stipendiary stewards to assess and address the conditions under which the horses are housed and trained.  No stone is left unturned.  We aim to maintain a clean, safe and fair playing field for all horses participating in this sport.  

From time to time enquiries are held into affairs pertaining to rules and contraventions of such rules.  The Veterinarians of the NHA are an essential part of these discussions and inquests.  We represent the voice of the horse, so to speak and advise on relevant points related to veterinary health and welfare.

Our function does not rest solely on a regulatory platform as we are key players in the collection of data and ongoing research within the equine veterinary field.  Our veterinarians regularly attend and participate in local and international conferences to liaise with other specialists in the field.  What we do is a constantly evolving science which envisages the betterment of racing and horse health.  

Notwithstanding the recording of a detailed history of each horse in racing, we are hard at work to improve the overall traceability of each and every thoroughbred registered with the NHA from birth to acceptable retirement or second careers.  This is currently done in close association with the National Horse Trust and Care Units around the country.  We are committed to assisting and educating trainers where possible in the interest of the sport.  Our vision for the future is to see all participants of racing with a common goal in mind: The sustainable welfare and wellbeing of the horse.

Regular newsletters and racing calendars are published within which trainers are notified of rule changes and their attention brought to important notifications and the revision of rules.  Queries from owners, trainers and interested parties are welcomed by our department regarding any veterinary and welfare matters.   

Each member of the NHA has their part to play in maintaining the sport of kings and we as veterinarians are proud to be a part of this team.