The development of a new strategy to help protect against equine disease and improve biosecurity is under way in Britain to replace the existing health pathway that is focused on agricultural animals.
Speaking at the 2022 National Equine Forum last week, British Horse Council chair David Mountford said the council was working with other key stakeholders, including the Devolved Administrations, to put together an equine strategy and pathway to help protect against equine disease and improve biosecurity.
He noted that the existing health pathway was a collaboration between the government in England and the equine industry to help protect against infectious disease, but it was focused more on livestock than horses.
Other topics in the spotlight at the 30th National Equine Forum (NEF) included grave threats to sustainability within the equestrian sector, from workforce challenges to growing resistance to dewormers.
The forum heard that a robust surveillance system was essential to managing equine influenza. Dr Richard Newton, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance, University of Cambridge, said the Equine Infectious Disease surveillance reports that are produced with support from the devolved UK governments and the British Equine Veterinary Association and funded by the UK’s Thoroughbred Industry include data collated from various diagnostic laboratories and UK veterinary practices.
Newton pointed out that the reports should help to inform owners and develop industry protocols for disease quarantine and biosecurity, as well as enable collaboration with international partners in the production of International Codes of Practice when managing disease outbreaks.
The Rt Hon Lord Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Defra, who described himself as “Minister for the Horse” said the equine sector contributed an estimated £4.7bn in consumer spending each year and was the largest importer and exporter of livestock. Equine health and welfare, ID and traceability status and plans following the UK exit of the EU were also discussed.
Dr Robert Huey, Chief Veterinary Officer for Northern Ireland, Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs and Dr Martin Blake, Chief Veterinary Officer for Ireland, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, looked at the implications of changes to import and export requirements and how the fragmented sector could be strengthened and unified for health, welfare and economic benefit.
Equine Grass Sickness was also in the spotlight at the forum. Dr Beth Wells, Principal Research Scientist and Knowledge Exchange Specialist at the Moredun Research Institute, spoke about the complex disease that had no clear cause or cure.
“By working together we can get the answers,” she said.
The development of a biobank of samples from horses that have suffered grass sickness was allowing researchers to gather data to improve understanding of the disease and more than one thousand samples had now been collected.
The British Horse Society (BHS) and the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) are calling on every equestrian to help improve safety across the sector by reporting all their equine-related incidents and accidents.
It was highlighted that collecting and recording information about events that negatively affect safety was a core part of both organisations’ drive to help create a safer environment for equestrians.
BHS Safety Director Alan Hiscox updated delegates on the BHS’s initiatives to improve riding safety, including the incident reporting Horse I App which had reached 12,000 downloads. He pointed out that BHS statistics had helped influence changes to the Highway Code in January this year and he was pleased to be able to note that road incidences had subsequently dropped by 23%.
BETA Executive Director Claire Williams said that data indicated that 64% of riders had been involved in an accident while riding and that using the right protective equipment could improve safety.
Forum celebrates 30th birthday
A special historical review was included to celebrate the forum’s 30th birthday, and the memorial lecture also explored the advances in equine breeding over the past 30 years.
Tullis Matson, Managing Director at Stallion AI Services Ltd and Cryogenics Ltd, took delegates on a fascinating journey through the advances of breeding techniques over the past 30 years and how the genetics of rare and endangered breeds could be safeguarded not just in horses but across the animal kingdom.
Professor Graham Suggett OBE and Miles Williamson-Noble, both Honorary Fellows of NEF, recalled the past 30 years of the NEF with a look at those who had helped to develop the event into the annual highlight that it is today. NEF Vice-Chair Dr Pat Harris emphasised the importance of the continuation of the event.
The event was live-streamed around the world with virtual viewers including delegates from the USA, Japan, Israel and continental Europe.
The event’s President, Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, provided a summary of the day and said that the 30th birthday was an opportunity to thank the founders of NEF and those who ensured that it would continue to exist.
The meeting closed with the presentation of the Sir Colin Spedding Award to Imran Atcha, a founder member of St James City Farm Riding School in Gloucester. Lynda Warth, British Horse Society County Access and Bridleways Officer for Cambridgeshire, was highly commended as the Award finalist.
“It was a joy to return to a face-to-face event this year,” said Tim Brigstocke, Chair of NEF.
“The atmosphere was vibrant, the debate stimulating and the quality of presentations outstanding. We have already received highly complimentary feedback from delegates, and we are delighted that no one needs to miss out as the entire event is now available to view via playback.”
Those attending included royalty, governmental, veterinary, educational, charity and equestrian association representatives.
» The replay of NEF22 is available until March 31, for £20, or free to those registered for the event.