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Concerns over permanent loss of horse events

November 29, 2007

The Chief Executive Officer of Australia's Equestrian Federation has expressed concern that the virtual shutdown of equine events in the country amid the equine influenza outbreak will lead to a permanent loss of events and of horse sport participants.

Franz Venhaus said that the federation was concerned that clubs and their committees may simply "give up and won't make the effort to return when things get back to normal at some time in the future. We hope this will not be the case."

"There are hundreds and thousands of people and businesses that rely on events for their income, either directly or indirectly. It may be fine for 'ordinary' horse owners to keep their horses at home for six to nine months and possibly even 'save' money (at the cost of not being able to enjoy the sport), but what about those who make a living from the sport? Without them and their contribution, equestrian sport cannot exist," Venhaus said.

"Events are the lifeblood of the sport, the clubs, and also of the commercial sector of the horse industry. Riders and owners buy new horse gear and horse services when they want to go to shows or when at shows. Not having events reduces this business considerably. Events and other gatherings are also important to professional riders, horse trainers, coaches and others, who have seen their basis of making a living disappear."

Several horse organisations have cancelled all events for the remainder of the year in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. "This has even been happening in disease-free states like Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia (events are still being held in Western Australia). State Departments of Primary Industry have been congratulating these horse organisations on their 'voluntary' restraint," Venhaus said.

"I am not advocating an open-slather approach to the holding of events but I have to ask the question why clearly disease-free horses in a clearly disease-free area of the country far removed from infected zones cannot gather without much ado for competition, at least at the local or regional level. Why are authorities in some states effectively frightening clubs and other organisers with onerous regulations and forecasts of doom so much that organisers donít even consider holding events?

"We need the authorities to assist clubs and organisers to hold events, not to make them impossible. EI and biosecurity risk assessments need to be realistic and apply to the context of the particular situation," he said.

Venhaus said he attended a meeting of members of the Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Disease (CCEAD) and the National Management Group (NMG), reviewing the emergency response so far and the path ahead (download a summary). "I was again amazed to hear some of the 'decision-makers' compare the cost of yearly vaccination (around $200) with the small average amount of the containment and eradication effort (a likely levy of $20 per horse or horse owner). Their way of thinking changed when they found out about the millions of dollars the standstill and other aspects of the emergency had cost the industry Ė that for the majority in the industry it has not been a simple matter of a small additional cost for vaccine and eradication levies.

• The first major event taking place in the New South Wales purple zone will be the Olympic Dressage Team Assessment at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre (SIEC) February 3-5. The FEI Ground Jury will travel to Australia, having judged the Japanese team and some Australian combinations in Cannes, France. After Sydney, the judges will go to New Zealand for the final assessment. The FEI will announce on February 12 which two of the three nations will have Team qualification for participation at the 2008 Olympic Games.



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