Crisis revealed at horse welfare conference - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Crisis revealed at horse welfare conference

GRAHAM DUNCANSON
reports on the latest conference of World Horse Welfare where it was revealed that equine charities are likely to be overwhelmed this winter by animals needing sanctuary

“THE importance of horses in
society today” was the title of the
annual conference of World Horse
Welfare (WHW) held in London in
November.

Martin Cruddace of Betfair, which
sponsored the conference, began by
announcing that his company had
entered into a £40 million five-year
deal with British racing and he stressed
that his company was very keen to
reinvest money into the welfare of
racing.

Former
Royal College
president, Dr Barry
Johnson, who
chaired the
event, then
welcomed the
Princess Royal (and the rest of us) to
the conference and presented a
beautiful photo of Zara Phillips to her.

Horse charities are in crisis, was the
main message from Roly Owers, the
chief executive of World Horse
Welfare, from a passionate appeal in a
video made outside the Houses of
Parliament. He confirmed that the
estimated thousands of horses needing
sanctuary this winter in the UK and
Eire was a reality and that the charities
involved would be totally overwhelmed
by these vast numbers.

Roly also gave a marvellous speech
at the conference on the horse
industry, entitled “Horses in society –
the reality”. He recalled how 80 million
horses had been killed in the First
World War and acknowledged that for
thousands of years horses have played
a vital part in war and sport.

There are now well over two
million riders in the UK. Horses are
not only used for riding for the
disabled but also they featured highly
in the equine Paralympics.They not
only help to rehabilitate war veterans
but also teach children the value of
comradeship with an animal. The
horse industry is worth £7 billion
pounds in the UK and much more in
the rest of the world.

WHW is based in the UK but it
also plays a vital role in Africa, Central
America and the Far East.

There are real concerns for the
danger of exotic diseases entering the
UK. The control of these diseases will
be made worse by the lack of funding
for the horse database.

Horses in the police service

Maxine de Brunner, deputy assistant
commissioner of the Metropolitan
Police, gave us a humorous overview
of the police horse presence in
London. There are 107 horses, of
which 72 are operational at any one time. She stressed that there were no
plans to replace them with vehicles!

They play a vital role in crowd
control and are much appreciated by
the general public. They assist in
fighting crime and maintaining public
order. They are used also in a
protection role for high-profile public
figures like the Princess Royal.

Discussion panel

The forum panel, ably chaired by Simon Brooks-Ward, included: Paul
Bittar, chief executive of the British
Horse-racing Authority, who seemed to
have travelled twice around the world
to be with us; Will Connell, World
Class Performance Director of the
British Equestrian Federation; Lucy
Higginson, editor of Horse and Hound
magazine, who gave some useful
insights into the beliefs of her readers;
and Baroness Ann Mallalieu, the
Labour peer who chairs the All Party
Parliamentary Group for the Horse.

The first question was on the
Grand National and the entire panel
agreed that everything possible must
be done to improve the welfare at this
iconic event, which is watched by up
to 60 million people. Aintree
Racecourse has spent a quarter of a
million pounds on irrigation recently
so that the going has been radically
improved, and they are constantly
monitoring jump design.

The panel was concerned that the
field might have to be reduced but
agreed that often horses fell towards
the end of the race when there were
very few horses left and crowding was
not a problem.

The panel was also concerned that
the physique of the modern racehorse
may allow the animal to race faster but
the animals were now not so robust,
which might account for the high
injury rate. It was agreed that making
the jumps easier would be
counterproductive as then the horses
would go faster.

Ann Mallalieu wisely remarked that
the views of the general public might
not be very helpful for the debate as
she imagined that they might well
approve of Christians being thrown to
lions for entertainment!

The second discussion concerned
over-breeding. Paul Bittar was pleased
to announce that the breeding of
thoroughbred racehorses was down last year by 30%. All the panellists
were agreed that ignorance was at the
centre of this problem and therefore
education was the key to solving it.

The third discussion was on the
use of debatable methods of training.
Will Connell considered that obviously
the use of pain was not acceptable as a
method of training but that certain
young horses required “squaring up”
otherwise they would end up a danger
not only to the novice rider but also to
riders in general.

Asked to clarify this statement, he
responded that an experienced rider
was correct in using firm riding
methods and the sharp use of the
whip in the correct location on the
horse. The whole panel agreed that
with modern photography and modern
videos, riders were literally always in
the spotlight.

Richard Newton from the Animal
Health Trust posed the poignant
fourth question on the preparation for
the arrival of a serious exotic disease
which would affect our horses. The
panel realised the growing threats from
exotic diseases. They welcomed the
idea for the tripartite agreement
between France, the UK and Eire to
remain in force for racehorses and top
competition horses but that horses of
lower value should be forced to have a
health certificate before international
travel between the three countries.

Some of the panel felt that disease
control was more important at our
own back door and diseases like ’flu
and strangles were just as important
from a welfare point of view as
perhaps more high-profile diseases like
African Horse Sickness.

The chairman of the panel
summed up by concluding that any
leverage which could be applied was
vital as all the welfare societies were in
trouble. Welfare needs never go away
and there is always more to be done.
He stressed that education not only for
the horse-owning population but also
for the population at large was vital.

The Centaur question

Brough Scott, the well-known
broadcaster and journalist, tried to
quantify the attachment between man
and the horse. He
considered
anthropomorphism
was very
dangerous: humans
looking after
horses must use
common sense and
not be sentimental.

Travelling
community

John Grant, who is now a RSPCA chief inspector, gave a
colourful account of life as a boy in
the travelling community.
He explained his decision to join the
army and amazed us all by recognising
his commanding officer in the
audience.

He described how travellers
respect their horses as their
possession gave the owner status in
the community. He showed a picture
of his old home, a caravan on a static
site and made an appeal for councils
to provide more land for such sites as
he felt that the dangers to horses
associated with being constantly on
the move would be lessened and
horses could be more comfortable.

He said that there was no need to
change every environment. He was
concerned that if we could not
understand travellers, how were we
going to make a difference to the
problems faced by horses overseas?
He stated that he was proud of his
travelling background but he had
never regretted his decision to
become an RSPCA inspector.

Address by princess

“The invisible horse in international
development” was the title of the
Princess Royal’s closing address. She
described how she travelled
extensively and was proud to be
associated with many worthwhile aid
projects and charities. She was sad
that so many were not economically
viable.

She noted how so few charities
worked together and said she could
see enormous benefits for a more
joined-up approach. She recognised
the problem that “The streets seemed
to be paved with gold in the cities”
was very widespread.

She urged that we all should not
become too focused on certain
welfare concerns such as the Grand
National. She considered the long-
distance transport of horses for
slaughter was one of the key issues.

All the speakers and the audience
hoped that the charity and this
conference would have an impact on
the welfare of horses, whether used
for work or for pleasure.

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