Equine welfare was explored during the first plenary session on the third and final day (Thursday, 17 May, 2018) of the 37th Asian Racing Conference in Seoul, South Korea.
Dr. Peter Curl, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Manager, Veterinary Regulation, and Ms. Amanda Bond, the Club’s Executive Manager Equestrian Affairs, addressed the convocation.
“Enhancing the quality of life, welfare, safety and durability of the racehorse is absolutely critical to ensuring the popularity and sustainability of racing into the future,” Dr. Curl said.
“Rapidly-changing societal values have resulted in horse welfare becoming a critical or even existential issue for racing authorities, with the industry facing increasing scrutiny and even opposition to its existence in some parts of the world.
“The fact is, that globally the vast majority of racehorses are provided with a very high standard of husbandry and care,” he continued. “But society is in the midst of a revolution regarding how animals are viewed and how they should be treated in the course of human use. That is especially true when that use is for sport, wagering or entertainment.”
He noted the existing welfare safeguards in Hong Kong, as well as the Jockey Club’s “exceptional level” of veterinary and farrier care.
Dr. Curl observed, though, that, “irrespective of this, the Club’s management continuously monitors welfare outcomes for Hong Kong horses and examines where improvements can be made. This is necessary to maintain our well-earned international reputation, to secure business sustainability and also, and most importantly, because it is definitely the right thing to do.”
He outlined eight key components to the Club’s equine welfare policy: a welfare manager and welfare officer to deliver equine welfare initiatives; an Equine Advisory Panel drawing on internal and external expertise; identifying and promoting best practices through a science-based approach; advancing equine research; developing a proactive communication strategy to counter misinformed perceptions; an ongoing education programme for horsemen and owners; racehorse aftercare; Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to measure the policy’s success.
Ms. Bond followed-up with a look at the Jockey Club’s policy and practices with regard to racehorse retirement and aftercare.
“Horse welfare is a vital component of keeping racing successful and aftercare of racehorses is a fundamental part of horse welfare. We cannot ignore it and we cannot afford to get it wrong,” she said.
She highlighted that the subsidy Hong Kong Owners pay when they import a horse will rise from HK$60,000 to HK$80,000 ahead of the coming season. That payment is used towards caring for horses that are given into the Club’s care upon retirement – if an Owner opts to retain their horse at that time, the fee is refunded.
Ms. Bond shared with delegates that the Jockey Club has a successful retraining programme, during which horses are constantly assessed by a panel of senior instructors, riders, vets and retraining unit staff. Some horses stay in Hong Kong, remaining within the racing sphere with the Lead Horse Team or the Apprentice Jockeys’ School, or joining one of Hong Kong’s riding schools; competing within equestrianism; becoming livery horses; or exporting overseas to partner organisations in New Zealand and the USA.
She said that retired racehorses within Hong Kong are helping the Club engage with the local community, enabling young people to form emotional connections with horses through a community riding scheme, Riding for the Disabled and the annual three-day community equestrian event at Sha Tin Racecourse, which last year drew 45,000 visitors.
“Hopefully, instilling this love of the horse amongst the general public in Hong Kong will help future generations appreciate the beauty and ability of the horse,” she said.
The previous afternoon (Wednesday, 16 May), Dr. Brian Stewart, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Head of Veterinary Regulation, Welfare and Biosecurity Policy, chaired a plenary session relating to veterinary regulation – in particular, some of the latest equine research projects.