Global horse movements: “We cannot simply wish for change”

Racing South Africa chief executive Peter Gibson addresses the session on international horse movements.
Racing South Africa chief executive Peter Gibson addresses the session on international horse movements.

Easing restrictions on international horse movements was about building trust with governments and using a science-based approach in promoting change, delegates to the Asian Racing Conference have been told.

Dr Brian Stewart, the Head of Equine Welfare and Veterinary Services at Racing Victoria in Australia, was addressing delegates during the session, “Movement of Horses” – an issue not only crucial to the growing internationalisation of horse racing, but other horse sports.

The FEI has been lobbying for global measures to make international movements of elite horses easier and its secretary-general, Ingmar De Vos, is attending the conference.

FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos
FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos.

‘Exciting times for equestrian sport in Asia’

FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos told the popularity of equestrian sport in Asia had soared.

The South East Asian Games were held in Myanmar in December, and the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping China League has held two legs in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park in April and May, with the third and final leg at the beginning of October at the Beijing International Equestrian Club.

“This summer, we will also see the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, next year the Asian Games will be held in Incheon in the Republic of Korea, and in 2020 the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held in Tokyo,” he said.

“These are very exciting times for equestrian sport in Asia, and to maintain this growth a number of key partnerships have been created across the horse sports industry focusing on development in the region.

“The FEI and the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities formed the International Horse Sports Confederation last November. Together, we are sharing our extensive knowledge, experience and expertise in equestrian sport around the world, including in Hong Kong and mainland China where we are working closely with the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

“The ongoing collaboration between the FEI and the OIE on facilitating international horse movement for equestrian events will also be beneficial for the sport in Asia and around the world.”

Stewart told the conference: “Movement protocols are controlled by national government authorities who are inherently conservative and risk averse.

“We cannot simply wish for change nor can we force it. We must develop trusting relationships with the government authorities on a science-based approach, and concessions we have achieved in Australia have come about as a consequence of those two things.”

Harmonising protocols was crucial to further progress, Stewart told delegates.

He said the continued rise of international competition in horse racing was of significant importance, both for the sport itself, and for the venues and the regions that hosted racing’s major events.

As an example, he noted that Melbourne’s Spring Carnival was now worth over $A600 million to the state of Victoria and that international participation had been credited with revitalising the event over recent years.

Stewart, who is chairman of the International Movement of Horses Committee, said that although travelling racehorses to Australia was a major undertaking, the country had made a great deal of progress in easing travel restrictions, including significant post-entry quarantine and post-arrival quarantine changes in 2013.

He added that the reduction of the quarantine period for arriving overseas horses from three weeks to two weeks was clearly more attractive to international participants, and that further changes in stabling arrangements and the timing of equine influenza vaccinations had also helped.

Stewart reinforced the point that, for progress to continue, it was vital that racing authorities understood the role and the priorities of relevant government agencies, and worked collaboratively in the interests of the industry and the nation itself.

Dr Susanne Munstermann, Chargee de Mission of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), outlined the concept of the high health, high performance (HHP) horse, which could be defined as a sub-population of the global equine population and ought to be assessed differently from the wider population.

“Horses under close veterinary supervision, such as those governed by the IFHA [International Federation of Horseracing Authorities], present a low health risk when travelled.

“They are identified and traceable, and they enter countries on a temporary basis for competition, not for breeding,” Munstermann said.

She also noted the perceived challenges to international travel in outlining the OIE’s proposal on the facilitation of international horse movement, which calls for collaboration with the high performance horse bodies.

Of particular significance was the partnership between the IFHA and the FEI, resulting in the formation of the International Horse Sports Confederation, to formalise co-operation between the world’s leading governing bodies for equestrian sport.

“Racing and equestrian sports bodies must emphasise to governments the socio-economic benefits of expanding HHP horses industries,” Munstermann said.

Echoing Stewart’s view that increased movement of horses internationally was vital to the growth of the multibillion-dollar horse-racing industry were representatives of two other major racing nations.

Dr Anthony Kettle, head of the Veterinary Department of the Dubai Racing Club, supported the HHP proposal, describing it as “a vehicle to solve the current problems hampering growth in the horse racing industry”.

“The equine industry and government veterinary services must work together,” said Kettle, who emphasised the need to write a set of harmonised conditions in a multibillion-dollar industry.

The chief executive of Racing South Africa, Peter Gibson, called on the world’s horse importing countries to revisit their import conditions and negotiate new terms with the South African veterinary authority.

“We call on our fellow horse racing nations to rally behind our cause,” said Gibson, who pointed to further ‘risk mitigating’ components being implemented in South African quarantine procedures.

“Internationalisation is the key to stimulating South African racing,” Gibson said.

Stewart concluded: “We are at a point in time where we have the significant opportunity of achieving change and harmonisation. The involvement of the OIE is a great partnership which can raise awareness and build confidence.

“There are further benefits to come from harmonisation and significant potential for change, especially in developing countries.”

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