A tubing operation helps a horse breathe when it is exerting itself. It is effectively a tracheostomy. The operation sees a metal tube inserted into the trachea beneath the larynx. This lets air bypass an area of obstruction. It’s easy to spot horses that have been tubed – they have a hole in their neck when they race, though this is fitted with a plug when the horse is at rest.
In reaching its decision the BHA Board took into account the effect on the horse, the appearance of this surgical procedure, international harmonisation and how this procedure, as distinct from procedures designed to restore usual function of the horses airway ("wind ops"), should be assessed. The Board took particular note of advice from the BHA's Veterinary Committee whose view was that tubing was an increasingly uncommon salvage procedure, whose use would likely die out of its own accord over the next few years.
Many horses have benefited from the operation, with Party Politics finishing second in the 1995 Grand National after a tubing operation. Trainer Bryan Smart was unimpressed with the change, describing it as “absolutely pathetic.” He said, “Certain racehorses wouldn’t do another job so if you tube them they carry on racing. We have one, in particular, Henry Morgan, who is a sprinter and he wouldn’t make a happy hack. Without being tubed he wouldn’t have raced and wouldn’t have won three times. It’s worked for years – what’s the problem now?”
Vet Edmund Collins, who works for many of the trainers in Middleham and Malton, took the view that this was a practice that had become outdated as vetinerary practice had developed. “As diagnosis has got better there are more answers that can be done without resort to tubing.”
Smart needn’t worry too much. Those horses that have had the operation done before 1 October will be able to carry on racing on production of a certificate signed by a vet confirming this is the case. But with the sport ever more conscious of how it looks to the casual observer, and with the improvements in animal treatment, it’s no surprise to see a practical change in the rules which will see the practice of tubing die out even more quickly.