Promoting the international movement of horses

Host Mr. David Eades introduced the 11th and final Plenary Session of the 38th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) on Friday afternoon in Cape Town, South Africa, entitled Promoting the international movement of horses. Pointing out that South Africa racing and breeding has been held back by African Horse Sickness (AHS), Mr. Eades explained that the session would explore where South Africa was, where it is right now and where it plans to be in the future.

“It was been a long road for South Africa”, said Mr. Adrian Todd, Managing Director of the South African Equine Health and Protocols (SAEHP). “Today South Africa stands before the world with a world-class disease control system, fully implemented and operational. A system that meets and exceeds the requirements of the European Union (EU)”.

Since 1997, when South Africa was re-accepted into the broader international community and 2013, when South Africa failed an EU audit, roughly 50% of the time no equine exports could take place, due to two-year ban periods, after outbreaks of AHS in the surveillance zone.

In response to these lengthy bans, the industry developed the SAEHP as the implementation arm of the Import/Export task team, which in turn formed a public/private partnership with the South African government. By the beginning of 2017, the creation of a safe and sustainable export pathway had been achieved. Implementation, however, took longer and for that to happen, engagement with international governments was crucial.

“To implement the disease control measures needed to meet the requirements of our trade partners, we needed the help of our government. No one else has the authority to implement disease control measures, and protocols are decided on between governments”, explained Mr. Todd. These trade negotiations were not the easiest, but three years later South Africa is ready for a much-awaited EU audit, which will commence on the 20 April this year.

Dr. Mpho Maja, Director, Animal Health, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, gave an overview of the role that the South African government plays in disease control. She said that it can be tricky to control diseases in a country with nine provinces, as diseases have no respect for borders, especially when the rest of the country is an infected zone and only a small section of Cape Town is considered a disease-free zone. Dr. Maja emphasised that private and public partnerships are essential and hence the government formed a partnership with SAEHP.

Dr. John Grewar, Research and Innovation Manager of the SAEHP, provided delegates with a progress update on the reinstatement of direct equine exports from the AHS free zone. He explained the implemented measures such as horse movement controls between the various zones, vaccination programs, the registration of all horses and the surveillance and recording of positive cases. Zebra control is also an important issue and every holding with zebras on in the Western Cape has to be registered, since zebras can act as an AHS virus reservoir host.

So what progress has been made? Dr Grewar points out that three years and eight months have elapsed since the last case of AHS in the AHS-controlled area – incorporating three full AHS seasons. Integrated systems allow much better and detailed understanding of the dynamics associated with control. These systems also provide a foundation for the demonstration of risk-mitigation measures. “We also have a better understanding of the epidemiology of AHS and the relevant and required control measures now compared to 1996/7 when the initial protocol was developed”, he added.

Dr. Baptiste Dungu, CEO of Onderstepoort Biological Products, provided ARC delegates with an overview of the history and production of the current live vaccine. The Onderstepoort Research Facility produces more than 50 vaccines, one of which is the AHS vaccine.

“This live attenuated vaccine is currently the best vaccine we have”, said Dr. Dungu. “There has always been concern around the safety of the live vaccine and hence there is a need for a new inactivated vaccine.” The International Horse Sports Confederation (IHSC) has driven a process for the development and validation of the DIVA AHS vaccine. The Hong Kong Jockey Club has contributed significantly by providing seed funding for the process. On the 28 June 2019, a South African AHS Vaccine Working Group, involving academics, government and private sector, was established.

The session ended with a panel discussion with the four speakers and Mr. Andrew Harding, Secretary General of the ARF, discussing the importance of international movement and answering questions from the audience.

Mr Harding summed up: “This is going to benefit breeders, with good bloodstock being available, and there is a benefit internationally for owners being able to access that. But it goes beyond that to racing as well. Only three weeks ago, Hong Kong simulcast seven races on the Sun Met raceday. US$25-million was bet on them in Hong Kong alone which provides an income generation for the local racing industry here. International movement of horses is so important for both breeding and racing purposes. We need to see the great racehorses trained by the likes of Mike de Kock and others in South Africa going overseas and likewise horses being able to travel here and race. That unlocks so much potential, which of course has been the theme of the 38th Asian Racing Conference.”

For more information on the 38th ARC, visit