One of the first programs of its kind in the country, Rillito Race Track implemented an Equine Wellness Program during the 2019 Winter Meet. The program was a resounding success, as there were no horse breakdowns during 96 races at the meet this year.
“A couple of years ago, as Rillito was opening for the season and surrounded by the Equine herpes virus, we made a statement by creating a protocol that larger tracks followed,” said Mike Weiss, Rillito Park general manager. “Rillito has always been known as an innovative track, and because we are smaller, we can implement protocols and adapt them more effectively. This season we created the Equine Wellness Program, and it paid off.”
Part of the program involved hiring extra veterinarians and pre-vet students working toward a Bachelor of Science in veterinary sciences at the University of Arizona. They received college credit through the Rillito Park Foundation Internship Program, a partnership with the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.
The students watched training and took notes on horses with close observation. The team performed pre-race exams on every horse, held classes with experienced lecturers on nutrition, colic, and other topics that were open to trainers, grooms, and others. There was a “Meet the Steward” session — for trainers, public, jockeys, and students — to learn from the stewards, who explained their roles and provided information, visuals and explanations on disqualifications.
The Rillito Park Foundation Equine Wellness Program’s goal is to create a racing environment whereby the health and safety of horses and riders is a primary objective. General Manager Michael Weiss brought in Dan Fick to be the coordinator of the Rillito Equine Wellness Program. A 1980 graduate of the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program, Fick’s credentials in the racing industry range from executive director of the Jockey Club to executive director of racing for the American Quarter Horse Association.
“We focused the season on creating a racing environment whereby the health and safety of horses and riders is the primary objective,” said Fick. “We brought modern wellness practices to our trainers and owners including equine wellness educational seminars for the horsemen on the topics of equine nutrition, bio-security, veterinary care, training regimes and fitness.”