Making a sustainable industry for future generations in the world of horse racing was the key message of the second and final session of the International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses (IFAR) conference.
The message that horses must be cared for from “cradle to grave” was emphasised at the session on April 19.
Owner and breeder Michael Drapac was among the speakers, and discussed how the racing industry appeared in the eyes of Millennials and Gen Zeds, who put social responsibility and environmental concerns above everything else.
“We will be measured by how well we repurpose our horses,” Drapac said.
“Every aspect of the breeding and racing industry must revisit what they do, and they must look at things through the lens of horses’ welfare and their purpose beyond their productive racing career.”
Sharing the information gleaned from post-racing programs in Australia, Jennifer Hughes, general manager of Equine Welfare for Racing Victoria, emphasized the importance of learning from the horses that have gone through such programs.
“Post-racing efforts have to start on day one, and this requires a whole industry approach,” she said.
Hughes stressed the importance of marketing and how effective marketing can increase the demand and value of ex-racehorses, and Kirsten Green, executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project, talked about the mission of the Retired Racehorse Project and how that organization’s annual Thoroughbred Makeover promotes the versatility of Thoroughbreds as sport horses.
Dr Adrian Farrington, executive manager of Veterinary Clinical Services at The Hong Kong Jockey Club, gave an overview of the transitioning of racehorses off the track in Hong Kong, which he said started well before the date of their actual retirement.
“All the racing stable and the associated professionals, including vets and farriers, operate under the auspices of The Hong Kong Jockey Club, and that allows us to have close oversight and centralized medical records of the health and welfare of all horses in training,” he said.
“Ultimately the aim is to identify horses with subtle performance-limiting issues before they become irreversible changes at the time of retirement.”
The session also featured a young professionals’ panel moderated by Australia-based racing broadcaster Caroline Searcy and composed of Godolphin Flying Start trainees George Broughton and Elinor Wolf; Caoimhe Doherty, co-founder of Treo Eile and stud manager at Forenaghts Stud; Natasha Rose, Equestrian Affairs project manager and Retired Racehorse Unit manager for The Hong Kong Jockey Club; and Tom Ward, trainer.
They were in unison on the importance of education and communication with those inside and outside the industry and that everybody in the racing industry, regardless of country or involvement, has a shared responsibility to care for racehorses throughout their lives. They also stressed the importance of traceability of ex-racehorses and that technology can help.
IFAR Steering Committee member and Racelab CEO Eliot Forbes closed the conference.
“The decisions that we make today will shape the industry of tomorrow; the industry that this generation of young professionals will inherit.
“They know the world has changed, and that a sustainable industry will be one that is responsive, transparent, and compassionate,” Forbes said.
IFAR partnered with the Japan Racing Association (Japanese Consultative Committee on Aftercare of Racehorses) to put on this year’s event, which was held as a series of two free virtual webinars.
The first session on April 5 was moderated by international broadcaster Rishi Persad, and looked at the need for the industry to prioritise racehorse aftercare.
IFAR is an independent forum that recognizes geographical and industry differences among racing countries and is designed to enhance Thoroughbred aftercare worldwide. Working with the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, IFAR will raise awareness of the importance of welfare for Thoroughbreds, improve education on lifetime care, and help increase demand for former racehorses in other equestrian sports.