The TBA addresses a raft of issues on behalf of members but at this time of the year nothing matters more than our work in support of a safe and disease-free breeding season. I recognise this is fundamental to all breeders.

A number of isolated cases of Equine Herpesvirus (EHV-1) abortion have already been reported in vaccinated thoroughbred mares, whilst press reports suggest that the paralytic form has affected both the thoroughbred and non-thoroughbred sectors. Dealing with a case of positive EHV-1 abortion, and the possibility of further abortions, tests the strongest of resolves, whilst the 30 disease-free days cannot come soon enough for everyone involved.

With the increased movement of horses, the threat of disease is never absent and, at a time when many stud farms are questioning the financial viability of their operations, there is little or no scope, not only to absorb the direct loss of valuable stock but also the associated costs and inconvenience this causes.

Nothing matters more than our work in support of a safe and disease-free breeding season

We cannot stress too highly the need to understand and follow the HBLB Codes of Practice, but there are no guarantees that these measures alone will provide complete protection against disease. This will be the theme of the TBA’s presentation to the National Equine Forum in March, emphasising the importance of joint working between the industry and government in controlling equine infectious disease. Coming straight after the Secretary of State in the running order, I do hope he stays long enough to hear our concerns.

Supported by Dr Richard Newton of the Animal Health Trust, we will press government to maintain the support for the protection provided by the requirement that cases of CEM and EVA are notifiable by law, an essential weapon to control the spread of disease and retain vital export markets for British bloodstock.

We will encourage the non-thoroughbred industry to recognise that disease surveillance and biosecurity is not just for the elite and we will reiterate the message that we cannot work in isolation if we are to be effective. This value of protecting our equine industry is reinforced by recent export trade figures published by HM Revenue & Customs, which confirmed that the export of live horses in 2011 accounted for £263 million. The second-largest figure was for live sheep (£7m). The government therefore cannot be blind to the importance of sharing this responsibility.

The significant investment made in the thoroughbred identification and registration process not only provides valuable resource in terms of tracing in the event of a disease outbreak, but also because mandatory passports and microchips provide valuable safeguards, not least to defend the industry against the current concerns regarding horsemeat and the food chain.

There is no doubt that we are far ahead of the wider equine industry, which have no comprehensive means of identifying owners, let alone medication records. This scenario could threaten our industry’s future use of essential drugs such as Phenylbutazone, which despite confirmation that the levels detected were insufficient to affect human health will, I fear, make an unwelcome return to DEFRA’s agenda.

Writing ahead of the Festival I would like to acknowledge the work of the BHA, the Levy Board, Jockey Club Racecourses and OLBG who, with a small investment from the TBA National Hunt race budget, programmed a valuable mares-only Grade 2 Hurdle Race on February 9 at Warwick.

This was badly needed after the loss of two mares’ Cheltenham trials. The race attracted an impressive 23 entries and eight runners. The challenge of creating a viable market for National Hunt fillies remains firmly on our agenda, and the TBA’s increased investment in mares-only races has helped to raise the profile of mares, but we still have a mountain to climb.