In Westminster Hall on December 6, George Eustice, the Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a Defra minister for nearly a decade until 2022, moved the motion “that this House has considered the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) and horse welfare,” during which he proposed the HBLB should allocate £12 million a year specifically to racehorse aftercare.

The debate can be found easily by directing a search engine to find Eustice’s name and horse welfare, but I heard this suggestion straight from the horse’s mouth at a BHA parliamentary dinner in November, when I sat next to our honourable friend.

Let’s be clear: much good intention and initiative goes on within the industry to plan and provide a clear pathway for the responsibility and delivery of welfare. In the majority of instances, breeders and owners do provide ‘cradle to grave’ care and provision for their horses, but there are always ones who slip through the net. It’s this section of the population that must be provided for.

Reviewing the current situation starts with the Horse Welfare Board, with the first point to be made that this is an advisory committee with, currently, no funding or funds to allocate to aftercare. Then there is Retraining of Racehorses (RoR), which relies heavily on a substantial charitable bequest to do much of its excellent work, which includes a vulnerable horse scheme.

Last month I discussed regulation and the importance of action before imposition. George Eustice’s proposal of diverting Levy Board funds makes this case well. However, HBLB is not a money tree and besides substantially contributing to prize-money, it supports other vital projects. Taking 12 per cent of the total budget would seriously compromise an already challenging landscape.

Provision for the future regarding the horses we breed, race, breed from and find different roles for, is a collective industry responsibility, a job for anyone and everyone who has a stake of any kind in a thoroughbred, for which funding must be provided.

Breeders currently pay a voluntary foal levy, while owners pay a levy of £1.25 on race entries. Both, whilst welcome, only scratch the surface if the ambition is to provide a resource that can deal with all issues relating to the aftercare needs of the British thoroughbred. Maybe a new charitable fund managed by RoR would work. Its administration would focus on ensuring the highest standards of aftercare, and there would be transparency throughout the industry to provide a safety net and, just as importantly, to inform the general public and influence attitudes towards our sport.

I would also give this fund the task of promoting and communicating the high standards that the thoroughbred industry adheres to already. It’s no good having the best product and not displaying it in the shop window with clear signage. Being on the front foot and proactive in communications is essential to create the proper public perception.

However, first and foremost the racing industry needs to understand how much this approach will cost, allowing there is sufficient data available to reverse engineer, working back to a number, while remembering that only a minority of the horse population will need critical/intervention care. Administration of the fund should include financial support for bone fide retraining facilities, with which will come accountability, productivity standards and KPIs. No easy rides!

Funding this vital and compulsory addition might involve four principal contributors: breeders, who start off the journey; owners, responsible for the racing part of the cycle; sales companies, collecting a modest levy each time a horse is sold and if the animal has a non-UK vendor, an introductory payment that reflects those made by breeders and owners at a first-ownership registration stage; and racecourses, the end-product consumer, paying a small levy per runner.

This is not just a matter for breeders; nor is it only the responsibility of owners. It is an industry issue, because everyone benefits from the horses, and everyone should have care and some cost in securing their futures. These thoughts are provided as a discussion paper. They do not seek to impose anything, but rather to act as a stimulus to address an issue that cannot be left unaddressed any longer.  Let’s get talking, and more importantly let’s get doing!