Horses of all ages may be microchipped under new passport regulations in Britain, delegates to this year’s National Equine Forum in London heard.
The annual event earlier this month was live-streamed to worldwide audiences, who saw politicians, vets and equestrian business leaders sharing knowledge and encouraging debate.
Opening speaker Lord Gardiner, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity at Defra, said new passport regulations would be implemented as soon as practical and the aim was to extend microchipping to all equidae of all ages.
He described the Central Equine Database as “a force for good” and concluded that “The horse is central to our fabric of society, and we are working to ensure it is safeguarded”.
Stewart Everett, Chief Executive of Equine Register reported that the Central Equine Database was live and has 1.2 million records on it, but “The system will only work if we have every equine on it”. The chip checker is expected to be launched in April 2018 and will be free to use.
Defra’s Director of Animal and Plant Health John Bourne spoke about livestock traceability and how it relates to the UK’s horses.
“We are working to co-create solutions that work for all animals and we are working with the British Horse Council. We are aiming to have a central, unified platform for all species that is more user-friendly”.
The forum was updated on the merging of the UK Equine Sector Council and the British Horse Industry Confederation into the British Horse Council to “harness the power of speaking with one voice”.
Jeanette Allen, Chair of the UK Equine Sector Council Steering Group and Chief Executive of The Horse Trust, reminded equestrian organisations that “we are stronger together, join the conversation”.
Topics including helmet design, road safety and risk management in eventing.
British Horse Society Director of Safety Alan Hiscox, outlined the BHS’s Dead? Or Dead Slow? Campaign to encourage drivers to pass horses safely and specifically highlighted the importance of riders helping to influence driver behaviour when passing horses. He illustrated the gravity of the situation with the latest statistics: 2900 road incidents involving horses since 2011, with 39 riders killed and 230 horse fatalities.
University College Dublin Research Fellow Michio Clark discussed research and development in helmet design and testing. He explained how studying real world accidents can help us better understand the mechanisms which lead to head and brain injuries. His team had been able to reconstruct cases from Horse Racing Ireland and British Eventing and had inspected 100 helmets involved with an impact.
Sam Watson, Founder of Equiratings, and Jonathan Clissold, National Safety Officer at British Eventing (BE), discussed the use of data to manage risk in equestrianism and safety in eventing. “Recognising the relationship between performance and risk allows the sports to grow safely and push the boundaries of high performance,” Watson said.
Jonathan Clissold went on to explain how British Eventing is looking to improve the outcome of a fall through course design, including frangible fences, ground lines, friendly profiles, colours and definition. BE is also working with EquiRatings for performance and risk information.
Small business challenges
A panel discussion on potential solutions to the challenges facing small equestrian businesses was chaired by Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP. The panel comprised Carol Andrews, owner of Wimbledon Village Stables and owner of Equicise, Nick Gauntlett, Director of Chescombe Farm and Stud, Online for Equine director Victoria Highfield, and Emma Williams, Director of Fundraising at World Horse Welfare.
The panel’s first question addressed the issue that some businesses are being faced with rate increases of 350%. The consensus was that if you feel the valuation is incorrect you must appeal.
“We need to keep pushing for a fair and equal system,” said Dame Caroline. The panel also discussed the importance of compliance with new General Data Protection Regulations, which comes into force in May, health and safety along with safeguarding, and recruitment and retention of staff.
Focus on welfare
Dr Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics, Centre for Equine Studies, Animal Health Trust, presented the results of a pilot study on the effects of rider to horse bodyweight ratios on equine performance. It showed that if the rider is excessively heavy for the horse in question it can have a negative impact on the performance of the horse. Many variables are involved but ultimately the study should help with the development of guidelines to help all riders assess if they are the right weight for the horse or pony they intend to ride.
Nick Rust, Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority, looked at the role of equine welfare and its perception within British Racing and maintained that “our sport has to adapt (with welfare and diversity) to be relevant to the young generation”, and that “Racing must be open and transparent to the public and show what we do for our horses”.
Rare Breeds Survival Trust Heavy Horse Ambassador Nigel Oakley made a passionate plea for recognition of the importance of heavy horses as part of the UK’s culture. “Suffolks, Shires and Clydesdales are all in a state of decline and Suffolk horses could be extinct by 2027,” he warned.
2017 Sir Colin Spedding Award winner Jim Green gave this year’s Memorial Lecture. Green is an Animal Rescue Tactical Advisor with the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, and Director and Co-founder of the British Animal Rescue & Trauma Care Association.
Green’s lecture covered equine emergency rescue, managing risk and meeting societal needs. “In partnership with the Horse Trust we have trained 900 Highways England Traffic Officers. 90% of local authority fire and rescue services now have large animal rescue teams,” he said.
HRH The Princess Royal summarised the day and presented the Sir Colin Spedding Award to Dr Simon Curtis in recognition of his contributions to farriery over 45 years.
The 27th National Equine Forum will be held on Thursday, March 7, 2019 at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, One Birdcage Walk, Westminster, London.