After Safety Improvements, No Horse Deaths at Grand National

All horses running in this year’s Grand National returned safely and uninjured from the race.
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Nowhere have the falls of the U.K.’s Grand National horserace been more famous than in Velvet Brown’s spectacular ride in MGM’s 1944 classic film "National Velvet." Masses of horses take 30 massive natural jumps nearly in unison, as the announcer lists the “horses down” over the loudspeaker.

In the real world, the Grand National has an infamous history of deadly falls, as horses hit hard jumps at top speed, crash into other horses, and rotate over the fall. In the past two years alone, two horses have died in each running of the annual race.

But in the 2013 renewal, held April 6 at Aintree Racecourse in Aintree, Merseyside, England, there were no equine deaths or injuries. Over the course of the race, there were just two horse falls and six unseated riders.

The event’s organizers and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) teamed up with researchers, trainers, veterinarians, and welfare organizations in 2011 and 2012 to create a safer environment for their equine athletes. Wooden jump cores were switched out for flexible plastic ones. Particularly low landing surfaces were raised. One jump was lowered. And the “toe boards” (orange line painted across the bottom of the jumps to help cue the horse for the jump) were made higher, according to Aintree Racecourse’s website. The BBC also reported that the race was shortened to slightly under four-and-a-half miles

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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