The continued decline in prize-money, if not robustly addressed, may eventually result in the slow death of our sport and livelihoods. However, only an outbreak of a severe equine disease has the potential to stop racing and breeding immediately, offering little or no time to avoid the outcome.
To all those racing executives who are about to turn away and leave such concerns to the ‘vets and other bodies’, I would just ask that you check your risk management policies and see if you cannot improve upon your own biosecurity measures, perhaps also support the valuable disease surveillance work of the Animal Health Trust? It is the AHT’s experts to whom we will turn in the event of a disease outbreak which has the potential to stop racing.
Thankfully, we have not witnessed an outbreak of fatal diseases such as Equine Infectious Anaemia or African Horse Sickness in Britain. We have to put our faith in the strict regulations which protect Europe from diseases of such magnitude and in our climate which, to date, has not harboured the vectors which carry infection – but for how long will this continue? We are all at risk from diseases which are brought to the UK from mainland Europe, via the often indiscriminate breeding practices adopted by non-thoroughbred breeders.
After more than 30 years of use, the HBLB Codes of Practice have proved highly successful
In April, DEFRA confirmed the isolation of Taylorella equigenitalis (the Contagious Equine Metritis organism) from an asymptomatic 16-year-old thoroughbred mare in Gloucestershire who, according to her owner, has never been covered by a thoroughbred stallion and has never been pregnant, but was unsuccessfully inseminated with semen from a non-thoroughbred stallion in 2011.
The only other horse on the mare owner’s premises is a nine-year-old non-thoroughbred mare that is reported to have been previously neither covered, nor inseminated, yet samples taken confirm that she is also positive and, therefore, may have been laterally contaminated.
DEFRA has confirmed that all positive horses are under official breeding restrictions, and must be treated and tested according to the Horserace Betting Levy Board’s Codes of Practice before these restrictions will be lifted, underlining the power that DEFRA wields in protecting our equine industry. These codes are designed to help maintain freedom from CEM and other important equine infectious diseases. After more than 30 years of consistent use in the UK they have proved highly successful.
More needs to be done to educate the non-thoroughbred sector, members of which are largely ignorant of the wider-scale effects of biosecurity shortcomings. Witness not only threats to the breeding industry from CEM, but also to racing, caused by influenza or strangles outbreaks in the random local equine population. These too have the potential to stop equine movement and cancel racedays.
Fortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that this outbreak involves the UK’s thoroughbred breeding industry, where the application of the codes is standard practice. The concern for all of us is the apparent disregard for the codes within the non-thoroughbred breeding sector in the UK and particularly across Europe.
The 2012 TBA Seminar will revisit equine infectious diseases but I fear we will be preaching to the converted and it is members of the sport and leisure horse breeding industry, who rely heavily on the practice of artificial insemination, which features in this latest outbreak, and also in the much larger outbreak in the USA in 2011.
Ironically, a recent issue of Horse & Hound magazine was almost entirely devoted to sport horse breeding, yet not once did the stallion studs concerned promote or advise potential clients that they adhere to the Codes of Practice. These were studs operating at the forefront of non-thoroughbred breeding. In view of the recent CEM outbreak in Gloucestershire, their attitude is indeed alarming to all breeders mindful of biosecurity.