The national bodies for thoroughbred breeders, trainers and jockeys, allied with race clubs and other industry participants have established the Thoroughbred Aftercare Welfare Working Group (TAWWG).
This panel has been tasked with reviewing the current welfare landscape in the Australian thoroughbred industry, to look to world’s best practice for guidance, to consult with participants in the industry and also draw upon the learnings from other animal industries. The TAWWG is focused primarily on horses exiting the thoroughbred industry, whether as retired racehorses or unraced animals, through to end-of-life management.
Our aim is that the panel will produce a report making practical policy recommendations that will enable the industry to improve welfare outcomes for our horses.
We are ensuring the panel is independent, with no member who derives their primary income from racing or breeding activities. While the TAWWG will liaise with an industry steering group, it is important they have the independence of thought to provide recommendations that the industry itself might not come up with.
The Working Group with examine current arrangements and seek to make recommendations to ensure that lifetime health and welfare of the horse is of prime consideration for horses leaving the racing and breeding industry.
Specifically the panel will:
Collate and examine current data, and consult all relevant and interested parties and agencies, to gain an accurate assessment of the number of thoroughbred horses retired from the racing and breeding industry annually and the fate of these horses.
Collate, study, benchmark and assess the many and various programs currently in use by the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry to provide ‘re-homing’ opportunities. This will include examination of global best practice and programs used successfully by other animal industries and horse breeds.
Review the level of thoroughbred horse breeding needed to meet the needs of the racing industry but to prevent excessive breeding.
Review federal, state and territory regulatory arrangements relevant to the ongoing welfare of horses, and particularly both racing and non-racing thoroughbreds, including the challenges and benefits of introducing a national traceability system for all horses.
Identify opportunities for industry-led quality assurance schemes including the development of national standards for equine health, welfare, housing, handling, transportation and husbandry practices.
Identify opportunities for structural improvement to existing arrangements for data collection and reporting, inter-jurisdictional co-ordination and national communications processes to ensure accurate industry information with regard to thoroughbred horses across Australia.
Identify opportunities for appropriate further research and development to enhance the long-term welfare of thoroughbred horses across Australia.
Make recommendations to enhance the welfare of all thoroughbred horses and therefore enhance the reputation of the thoroughbred industry as an industry that genuinely cares about the welfare of all thoroughbred horses.
Give consideration to the regulatory framework and the effectiveness of current oversight and supervisory procedures and practices for facilities that process horses for human and animal consumption. This will include assessment of current levels of relevant education and training of management and workers in these facilities with respect to horse behaviour, management and welfare.
ISSUE 1 - What is good horse welfare?
Fundamental to the consideration of the welfare of thoroughbred horses is an understanding of how to define, assess or even measure the welfare of a horse.
What are the fundamental principles that must be considered in assessing horse welfare?
Should there be enforceable standards of care for horses?
If so, who should set those standards and who should enforce them?
How does quality of life compare with quantity (length) of life?
Under what circumstances should euthanasia be allowed?
Who should be allowed to euthanise a horse and by what methods?
Should the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry have a social, moral, or even a legal responsibility for the ongoing welfare of thoroughbred horses who have exited the industry?
ISSUE 2 - Thoroughbred Production.
Over the past three years the number of thoroughbred foals produced in Australia has averaged around 13,000. This number has been decreasing over the past 15 years and is now well below the 18,750 foals born in 2005.
During the same time period the number of race meetings, races and average number of runners per race has remained relatively constant, despite the decline in foal production. The number of thoroughbreds sold as yearlings each year has also remained fairly constant, at about 6,000 horses.
However a Melbourne University study* of the 2014 foal crop found that 28% of all foals do not enter training stables by the age of four.
Why do 28% of horses not enter training?
What is the fate of those that do not enter training?
What is the ideal size of the foal crop?
If a smaller foal crop is desirable, how should this be achieved?
Is there capacity for the industry to alter the number of races, race meetings and handicapping provisions to positively affect welfare?
Are all thoroughbreds produced with the aim of racing or being sold commercially?
ISSUE 3 - Thoroughbred Traceability.
The Australian Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Transport References Committee recently tabled a report entitled “Feasibility of a national horse traceability register for all horses”.
This Committee concluded “Horses are deeply loved by their owners and are highly regarded by the community at large” and they recommended that “the Department of Agriculture establishes a national horse traceability working group …” and “that the national horse traceability working group work towards establishing a national traceability register that, at its core, serves a biosecurity function”.
Many horse industry stakeholders, including many in the thoroughbred industry, support the concept of a national horse traceability register for all horses.
The thoroughbred industry has its own registration and traceability processes through the Australian Stud Book and Racing Australia. Taken together, these rules are intended to ensure a horse’s location and ownership are known from birth until a horse exits the racing or breeding industries. However, racing regulators have no jurisdiction over horses once they leave the care of industry participants.
How would a national horse traceability register assist in improving welfare outcomes for retired racehorses and thoroughbreds that have never raced?
Who should pay to establish and maintain a national horse traceability register?
Who should initiate and manage this register?
Given that all thoroughbreds are microchipped and registered with the Australian Stud Book, would a national horse register be a duplication?
Without an operational national horse traceability register how can the thoroughbred industry maintain visibility over horses that leave the racing and breeding industry?
Are the thoroughbred industry’s traceability measures working effectively?
ISSUE 4 - Racing and Breeding Industry – sponsored programs for retired racehorses.
In recent years racing authorities in all states and territories have devoted time, money, effort and leadership to the development and implementation of programs to re-home, care for, and improve welfare outcomes for retired and unraced thoroughbreds.
What programs have been most effective in improving opportunities and welfare outcomes post racing or breeding?
How can these programs be further improved?
Is there scope for a national approach for these programs?
If so, how should this be organised and funded?
What programs overseas are working effectively to improve outcomes for thoroughbreds exiting the industry?
What capacity does the equestrian sector in Australia have to take on thoroughbreds? And how can this be increased?
ISSUE 5 - Regulation
Across Australia the regulation of animal welfare standards resides within the responsibility of the states and territories under the provisions of various Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts or their equivalents.
In addition, there are welfare requirements and provisions under the Australian and State Rules of Racing and the relevant state and territory legislation with respect to thoroughbred racing.
Some jurisdictions also have codes of practice that relate to the treatment and welfare of animals, including horses.
Is the current horse welfare regulatory framework adequate?
What improvements could be made to the legislation?
Do we need national animal welfare standards and guidelines for horses?
Do we need more effective monitoring and enforcement of current horse welfare legislation?
ISSUE 6 - Humane Horse Processing Facilities.
While regulations vary across Australian states and territories, a number of horses, including some thoroughbreds, are killed and processed for human and animal consumption at abattoirs and knackeries every year.
A recent ABC report highlighted significant mistreatment of horses at one of these facilities, which prompted community concern and led to a Queensland Government inquiry by Terry Martin SC.
If there were adequate and enforceable provisions that ensured horses at processing facilities were treated in a humane and ethical manner, would you consider the processing of horses for pet food and or human consumption acceptable?
What is the world’s best practice for humane operation of horse processing facilities?
What are the key considerations for the safe and humane euthanasia of a horse?
Are mobile, on farm, horse processing facilities a feasible option?
If processing horses at an abattoir or knackery is not acceptable, how should these horses be managed?
ISSUE 7 - Research and Development.
The thoroughbred industry makes significant investment each year on research and development, through direct expenditure with research institutions, and also through programs such as the AgriFutures administered Thoroughbred Levy.
What research is the highest priority to improve the life-long welfare of thoroughbred horses?
How should this research be funded?
What body or groups should be responsible for setting these research priorities?
How can the thoroughbred industry educate external stakeholders on its welfare initiatives?