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From Brexit to tack fit and strangles: plenty to discuss at national forum

by
01 April 2017, at 12:00am

THE CENTRAL EQUINE DATABASE should be fully operational by this summer, Stewart Everett, chief executive of the Equine Register, told the National Equine Forum in London last month. 

Its primary purpose is food chain safety and secondarily disease management and welfare, he said. 

Introduction of a free public chip checker is intended to encourage public involvement and promote compliance while an animal ID veterinary app will help with traceability and legal compliance. The digital biometric passport system is expected to link passport issuing office, owner and vet, with the location of the horse, as well as that of the owner, a key requirement for welfare and disease prevention. 

Lord Gardiner, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA, highlighted the importance of the equestrian sector’s role in the UK’s national and rural economies with its contribution of £8 billion a year.

He announced that DEFRA would soon be launching a consultation on proposals for the new Domestic Regulation on Equine ID, in which views would be invited on the need to microchip older horses and how best to implement the new ID regulation and improve the enforcement regime. 

The aim, he said, “is to make it easier for enforcement bodies to take action against the very small minority who deliberately flout the law and who threaten the integrity and reputation of an otherwise first-class sector”. 

Effects of Brexit 

The Forum’s panel discussion debated the potential effects that exit from the EU may have on the horse industry. Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, chaired the panel, which comprised Graeme Cooke (deputy CVO for the UK), Simon Cooper (operations officer at Weatherbys GSB), Nikki Newcombe (who chairs the BETA and is managing director of Bliss London) and Clare Salmon (chief executive of the British Equestrian Federation). 

The panel discussed Brexit’s potential impact on trade, identification, biosecurity and competition travel. The consensus was that the UK should play to its strengths: the UK’s thoroughbred industry is currently Europe’s biggest market, favourable exchange rates bring export advantages and the UK is setting a gold standard with the Central Equine Database. 

The panel urged all stakeholder groups from government to horse owners to pull together to support compliance and enforcement. The conclusion was that EU exit has to be regarded as an opportunity for the equine sector and that the sector needed to work together in speaking to government about its priorities. 

Positive changes 

Ross Hamilton, corporate affairs manager at the British Horseracing Authority, reported that the government had listened to this sector and that positive changes were imminent. 

The Horserace Betting Levy replacement will commence in April 2017, capturing a return from all betting activity on the sport, including the significant growth in online betting. Critical funding for veterinary research, disease surveillance and protection of rare breeds would continue under the new system.

Impact of tack fit 

A three-part session on the impact of tack fit commenced with Dr Sue Dyson of the Animal Health Trust explaining that the use of an ill-fitting saddle can have both short-term and long-term implications for the horse and can affect the longterm muscle development.

In addition, a saddle that does not fit the rider may impair his or her ability to ride in balance with the horse and influence the forces transmitted to the horse’s back. She emphasised the importance of regular use of a qualified saddle fitter. 

Neil Townsend, a European specialist in equine dentistry at Three Counties Equine Hospital, provided insight into the anatomy of the equine head and the many different areas that can be influenced by tack. 

Dr Caroline Benoist went on to explain the implications of bitting for the welfare and comfort of the horse. Dr Benoist and Dr Dyson both agreed that everyone must work together to increase the availability of scientific research as in so many areas there is a real lack of evidence. 

Health network 

Dr Tim Parkin, clinical director of the Weipers Centre Equine Hospital at the Glasgow veterinary school, presented the memorial lecture on the launch of the Thoroughbred Health Network as a UK-wide initiative. Its mission is to optimise the health of the racehorse and other equines predominantly by translating and sharing research and disseminating tips and advice on injury and disease. 

Survey on strangles 

In a session on biosecurity and healthier horses, Andrea Vilela, education and campaigns manager at Redwings Horse Sanctuary, released the results of the charity’s “Strangles Survey”, developed in collaboration with the University of Liverpool. 

Over 90% of survey respondents believed strangles should be more of a priority in the UK and the charity’s “Stamp out strangles” campaign intends to increase owner awareness and improve biosecurity and reduce the incidence of the disease among the UK horse population.

Professor Josh Slater continued with the theme of biosecurity, presenting an infectious disease case study and explaining the importance of following a practical outbreak control plan including rigorous quarantine, segregation and isolation protocols. 

The take-home message was that horse owners and yards should work with their vets to formulate and implement a disease control plan and that those unfortunate enough to have disease outbreaks should be supported, not demonised. 

  • A summary of some of the NEF presentations can be downloaded from www.nationalequineforum. com. The 2018 Forum will be held on 8th March at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.