Dr Brian Stewart, the Head of Equine Welfare and Veterinary Services at Racing Victoria in Australia, told delegates that the continued rise of international competition in horse racing is of significant importance, both for the sport itself, and for the venues and the regions that host racing’s major events. As an example, he noted that Melbourne’s Spring Carnival is now worth over A$600 million to the State of Victoria and that international participation had been credited with revitalising the event over recent years.
Stewart, also Chairman of the IMHC (International Movement of Horses Committee), said that although travelling racehorses to Australia was a major undertaking, the country had made a great deal of progress in easing travel restrictions, including significant Post Entry Quarantine and Post Arrival Quarantine changes in 2013.
He added that the reduction of the quarantine period for arriving overseas horses from three weeks to two weeks was clearly more attractive to international participants, and that further changes in stabling arrangements and the timing of equine influenza vaccinations had also helped. In addition, Dr Stewart reinforced the point that for progress to continue, it was vital that racing authorities understood the role and the priorities of relevant Government agencies, and worked collaboratively in the interests of the industry and the nation itself.
"Movement protocols are controlled by national government authorities who are inherently conservative and risk averse. We cannot simply wish for change nor can we force it. We must develop trusting relationships with the government authorities on a science based approach, and the concessions we have achieved in Australia have come about as a consequence of those two things, science and trust," Dr Stewart said.
Dr Susanne Munstermann, Chargee de Mission of the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health), outlined the concept of the HHP – high health, high performance horse - which could be defined as a sub-population of the global equine population and ought to be assessed differently from the wider population.
“Horses under close veterinary supervision, such as those governed by the IFHA (International Federation of Horseracing Authorities), present a low health risk when travelled. They are identified and traceable and they enter countries on a temporary basis for competition, not for breeding," Dr Munstermann said.
She also noted the perceived challenges to international travel in outlining the OIE’s proposal on the facilitation of international horse movement which calls for collaboration with the high performance horse bodies.
Of particular significance was the partnership between the IFHA and the FEI (International Equestrian Federation), resulting in the formation of the International Horse Sports Confederation, to formalise co-operation between the world’s leading governing bodies for equestrian sport.
"Racing and equestrian sports bodies must emphasise to governments the socio-economic benefits of expanding HHP horses industries," Dr Munstermann said.
Echoing Dr Stewart’s view that increased movement of horses internationally was vital to the growth of the multi-billion dollar horse racing industry were representatives of two other major racing nations.
Dr Anthony Kettle, Head of the Veterinary Department of the Dubai Racing Club, supported the HHP proposal, describing it as “a vehicle to solve the current problems hampering growth in the horse racing industry.”
"The equine industry and government veterinary services must work together," said Dr Kettle who emphasised the need to write a set of harmonised conditions in a multi-billion dollar industry.
Peter Gibson, CEO of Racing South Africa, called on the world’s horse importing countries to revisit their import conditions and negotiate new terms with the South African veterinary authority. “We call on our fellow horse racing nations to rally behind our cause,” said Gibson, who pointed to further ‘risk mitigating’ components being implemented in South African quarantine procedures.
"Internationalisation is the key to stimulating South African racing," Gibson said.
Dr Stewart summed up as follows: "We are at a point in time where we have the significant opportunity of achieving change and harmonisation. The involvement of the OIE is a great partnership which can raise awareness and build confidence.
'There are further benefits to come from harmonisation and significant potential for change, especially in developing countries," Dr Stewart said.