The Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association has been the linchpin and co-ordinator of all breeding industry issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the immediate aftermath of the government’s announcement about the national lockdown from March 24, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons chose to exclude thoroughbred breeding from its recommended list of essential activities to vets, and the British Equine Veterinary Association felt compelled to follow suit.
At that point, therefore, veterinarians were being advised by their associations not to carry out any reproductive work on equines, a most worrying development given the time of year and the specific seasonal nature of thoroughbred breeding.
However, the TBA team worked incredibly hard to obtain ‘tacit’ approval to continue the covering season, and took advice from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss to develop the protocols that all breeders have now used as routine on stallion farms. They allowed vets to use their discretion and later to risk assess the situation for themselves.
The TBA, which introduced a special Covid-19 hub on its website, also helped to create an online system that dealt with visiting mares, so that there was no need for contact between those personnel visiting the stallion farm and the stallion stud’s staff receiving the mare. Social distancing at its best!
I have little doubt that if the TBA had not been fully pro-active, and without having previously built up an excellent relationship with Defra, the thoroughbred breeding season would have been interrupted for a considerable length of time.
The TBA has also been represented on almost all Covid-19 racing industry committees – this has been enormously time- consuming but essential work to ensure that the breeder’s voice is heard when important decisions are made.
Breeders are the ‘supply side’ of the industry, and the recent pandemic has highlighted the fragility of this once again. Everyone knows the world is going to look very different for some years to come, but without breeders and breeders’ confidence, there is a real risk that horse numbers will drop to a level that cannot begin to sustain the sport at the present level. There may well be changes and substantial casualties ahead, and on behalf of its members the TBA needs to be fully engaged with the industry as it reviews its future.
The first step towards securing a more positive future for the industry is the recently announced Great British Bonus scheme, which has been designed to reward winning connections of registered British-bred fillies and mares in qualifying races. Never has there been a time when an industry scheme has been needed so much. Breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, stable staff and pinhookers can all benefit from GBB prizes, supporting those who are invested in the future health of our industry.
The substantial prizes should increase demand amongst potential purchasers for fillies, increasing the numbers in training, and testing their ability on the racecourse before their selection for breeding. It is hoped that with cross-industry support, the scheme can help determine a long-term sustainable future not only for the breed, but also for British breeders and the industry.
There are any number of other threats to our industry such as equine influenza, equine herpes and African horse sickness, not to mention as yet unknown diseases in both humans and equines. The fall-out from Brexit is not going to make life any easier, while welfare issues and the US Jockey Club’s decision to limit stallions to 140 covering certificates have to be addressed by the TBA on behalf of British breeders.
It has been encouraging and rewarding to receive messages of thanks from so many members for the hard work and long hours put in by the TBA team, but we need recognition that those who benefit most from thoroughbred production should help finance the association on an ongoing and sustainable basis. Support should be in proportion to the size and scale of the breeding operation involved and the benefits it obtains from the work the TBA does on behalf of breeders based in Britain.
We are your TBA and it is in everyone’s interest that we are properly and equably funded to represent the interests and safeguard the British breeding industry.