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Racing Victoria making strides with welfare plan

Racing Victoria august online news article

 

 

By Equestrian Life

Released mid-2019 and later expanded with a minimum $25 million commitment, Racing Victoria’s three-year Equine Welfare Strategic Plan is taking shape with a range of priority projects now underway. 

Focusing on the post-racing care of retired racehorses, these projects are largely centred on developing pathways that meet the needs of every off the track thoroughbred, no matter their circumstances. 

Since January 2020, the Victorian racing industry has directed $10 million thus far to delivering this welfare plan. Of that investment, $6.8 million has been contributed via a 2% prizemoney allocation, with the balance coming directly from Racing Victoria (RV) funds. 

So where is the money going? 

The $10 million spent to date has contributed to a range of initiatives, from supporting businesses that offer pathways for retired racehorses, through to important veterinary research. These initiatives include: 

Expanding RV’s dedicated in-house equine welfare taskforce from two members at the start of 2020 to a team of seven to respond to the challenges facing the industry and deliver their expanded and accelerated programs and initiatives. 

Establishing an Equine Welfare Advisory Council (featuring four independent equine welfare and veterinary experts) to help guide the delivery and implementation of the equine welfare action plan. 

Launching the RESET Program to help retired racehorses that have struggled to transition to a second career. The program has already assisted 32 former racehorses in need, discovering new post-racing careers for horses once considered less desirable. 

Growing RV’s Off The Track partnership network to further open up new opportunities for retired racehorses. This includes an initial $50,000 commitment to the Riding for the Disabled Association of Victoria and a pilot program for horses to enter tailored retraining with the goal of being rehomed to RDAV. 

Directing $300,000 in emergency support to RV’s network of over 50 Acknowledged Retrainers who cared for off-the-track horses for longer than anticipated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Developing a $200,000 grant program for RV’s Acknowledged Retrainers to help increase their capacity to take on more retired racehorses for retraining and rehoming. 

Introducing a $100,000 grant program for Victorian equine businesses with the objective of increasing the number of thoroughbreds utilised by businesses the sport hasn’t traditionally worked closely with, to expand the opportunities available for thoroughbreds post-racing. Recipients of this grant are: Balmoral Equestrian Centre, an Australian Paralympic Centre of Excellence and the home of Equine Pathways Australia); LBR Equestrian, a riding centre that takes on riders from all walks of life; JW Equestrian, a centre that creates opportunities for people who don’t have their own horse to learn to ride; Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides, a family run horse trail riding business that has been operating for 39 years in the Victorian High Country; Jackson Park, which has been running their equine therapy program since 2018; Racing Hearts, which works with a team of retired racehorses providing equine assisted therapy to individuals in the local community; and Melbourne Equine Therapy, a former broodmare and agistment facility that has bee transformed into a haven for off the track thoroughbreds and offers equine assisted learning and equine therapy. 

Launching the Off The Track Community platform to improve the visibility of retired racehorses and help improve efforts to audit the movement of horses post-racing. Since May 2021, more than 1700 users have registered on the platform, claiming 600 retired racehorses – many of whom the industry previously had no visibility of – and registering as an emergency contact for 300 horses. 

Placing a greater emphasis on the traceability of horses within racing. A major stable return audit identified 630 Victorian trainers had 3,396 horses listed as active, spelling or transferred that had not raced during a six-month period. As a result, RV received new data on 916 horses. 

Increasing welfare checks. RV’s equine welfare team conducted welfare checks on over 1600 current and retired racehorses in the past 18 months to ensure each one was receiving the appropriate care they deserve. When required, RV have also partnered with RSPCA Victoria to conduct welfare checks, of which 13 joint inspections have been conducted since September 2020. 

Developing a safety net program, which included launching the Onsite Humane Euthanasia Program (OHEP) in April 2021 for thoroughbred racehorses where the decision to euthanise is for the best welfare outcome and has already been made by the owner. The OHEP supports owners and trainers to euthanise these horses onsite rather than have the horse transported to a knackery or abattoir for euthanasia. 

Focusing on education and culture to deliver professional development for the industry; this has been led by the introduction of an industry learning portal in October 2020, with the first learning course focused on equine welfare. 

Continuing to fund research and innovation, including RV’s joint venture with the University of Melbourne and the Victorian Government into world-leading equine injury prevention research. Other research includes understanding and addressing the barriers for horses entering training and racing; the causes of cardiac arrhythmias (heart irregularities) and how these affect performance and fatal outcomes; and a post-mortem program to understand and learn from fatal injuries. 

Developing a Medicare style subsidy scheme to reduce the financial hurdles for Victorian trainers and owners to access advanced diagnostic imaging on Victorian thoroughbreds. 

Delivering year-round education and awareness for the community, which included an extensive Here for the Horses communication program conducted throughout the spring of 2020 to showcase industry efforts. 

Continuation of race day veterinary services that involve 60 vets working across the state to deliver pre-race inspections, post-racing scoping and emergency care.  

What’s next? 

A further $15 million is scheduled to be spent on the Equine Welfare Strategic Plan over the next 18 months as RV expands upon the initiatives progressed since the start of 2020 and begins to roll out new programs. The next phase includes: 

Formalising RV’s emergency care program, which will support those Victorian racehorse owners facing tough circumstances outside of their own control, including a natural disaster. 

Launching a new Foster Program to assist those thoroughbreds in need of short to medium term care. 

Adding additional features to the Off The Track Community plaform. In the coming 12 months users will be able to showcase and update the profiles of their own horses, access important educational offerings and be able to directly register to compete in OTT sponsored events and clinics. 

Introduction of an Acknowledged Retirement Farms Program. Similar to RV’s Acknowledged Retrainer network, it will provide owners with further guidance and assistance when retiring their much-loved racehorse. 

Continuing to review and assess RV’s welfare programs and initiatives to ensure they remain appropriate and sustainable, with work progressing on the development of the industry’s next cycle of its equine welfare plan. 

 

This article was written in conjunction with Racing Victoria. 

 

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