The new nationally endorsed protocol for the safe movement of horses into Victoria from states affected by equine influenza will help get the horses on the move.
Victoria's chief veterinary officer, Hugh Millar, believes the horses should be home by the end of the year, with 230 owners of some 400 horses having already expressed an interest to get their animals home.
"Strong evidence indicates the epidemic is waning in NSW and Queensland, and in response to the changing EI situation, we are finalising the process to start returning horses home, which have been stranded since the outbreak," Dr Millar said.
"The adoption of the revised national importation protocol follows extensive consultation with equine authorities, peak industry groups and veterinary experts.
"We anticipate that horses in the green zones will start entering Victoria during December,subject to approval and NSW Department of Primary Industries certification, once a Victorian movement permit has been issued and they have satisfied a number of strict biosecurity requirements.
"I would like to make it clear that the movement of horses into Victoria from areas in New South Wales and Queensland outside of the green zones is still banned and I stress that movement of horses from the Green Zone without a permit is also banned."
He said the importation protocol incorporates testing, inspection and on-farm isolation in New South Wales/Queensland, followed by further testing in isolation at a government-approved Victorian isolation site.
Victoria's DPI will supervise movements of the first instalment of horses, which will be kept at the Werribee isolation site.
Dr Millar said future movements under the protocol could include horses being isolated at a separate Victorian centre and will occur early next year when DPI New South Wales and DPI Victoria finalise procedures addressing a series of possible EI scenarios.
He said the Albury Equestrian Centre will no longer be needed as a site for holding and testing horses prior to entry into Victoria.
"We identified the site at Albury as suitable for the purpose. The revised protocol endorses the option of on-farm isolation as a safe and practical alternative for horse owners, in acknowledgement of the lower risk now posed by horses in the green zone," Dr Millar said.
"Under the protocol, each horse will need to be tested for EI while held in on-farm isolation for two weeks. Horses will then be moved under permit to Victorian isolation for a further week and, if they pass all tests, they can move anywhere in Victoria."
Dr Millar said the national protocol to be used by Victoria for the safe movement of horses from infected to non-infected states would apply to any horse that could meet the protocol and the movement of racing horses will be managed by their respective racing authorities.
"Moving non-racing horses stranded since the outbreak is still our number one priority," Dr Millar said.
He said equine authorities would continue to mitigate risk to prevent the disease spreading to Victoria and would introduce further biosecurity measures if required.
"EI has proven itself to be an enormously debilitating disease and we will not be taking any steps that would endanger Victoria or put our healthy horses at risk," he said.