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No welfare 'horror story' in wake of downturn

TIM Morris, the British Horseracing Association's chief vet, yesterday played down fears that the recession and downturn in sales trade has had a negative impact on bloodstock welfare, saying: "There isn't a hidden horror story out there - we went out looking for it, and it isn't there."

Morris was speaking in the wake of a sluggish start tothe British and Irish sales season, symbolised by an increase in the number of horses led out of the auction rings unsold.

He said the BHA had investigated anecdotal reports of unsold horses being abandoned at the sales by their owners but found no hard evidence since responding, in late 2007, to "the considerable speculation on the impact of the recession on the welfare of thoroughbred horses."

Around 20 per cent of racehorses leaving training are retained for breeding purposes in Britain and Ireland and Morris said a combination of passports and micro-chipping allowed the BHA and other racing authorities to monitor their movements.

Brian Kavanagh - Cheif executive Horse Racing Ireland

Brian Kavanagh: Any neglect case can be traced by microchipping

  PICTURE: Caroline Norris  

"Every registered foal now has a microchip implanted under its skin to make it readily identifiable," he said. "Over 100,000 horses foaled in Britain and Ireland can now be identified this way, so it is much easier to find out the history of a horse found in need of care and attention."

He added that feedback from equine welfare associations had established that there were "very few calls" expressing concern about a thoroughbred's welfare. "The figures show that things have stood up remarkably well since the recession, helped by the correction in the number of horses being bred in the UK and Ireland. Breeders have done their job by reining things in.

"We are not seeing an increase in problems, apart from the occasional case which you get every year. You can't sell a thoroughbred without proper ID, including horses that are led out of a sales ring unsold. There isn't a hidden horror story out there because we went looking and we couldn't find it. Neither could the welfare organisations.

"The signs are encouraging, even thought it is important not to be complacent, and recognise that impacts may take some time to become apparent."

BHA figures show that there has been a 61 per cent increase in thoroughbreds sent to the abattoir, from 339 in 2008 to 548 last year. "Our clear position is that we don't regard humane euthanasia as a welfare problem," Morris said.

The same view was taken by Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland. "In this situation it is probably better than leaving a horse in a neglected position," he said.

Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association met last year with animal welfare bodies to draw up guidelines for owners and breeders on this issues, Kavanagh said.

"The welfare associations reported that while there has been a significant interest in the number of horses being found abandoned in Ireland, there is no evidence that there has been an increase in how many of them are thoroughbreds, although sadly you always get the odd bad apple.

"But these stories of horses being left at the sales and tied to the gate are not true and not possible due to passports and micro-chipping. Any case of neglect can be immediately traced and dealt with. It's an easy story to make but there is no foundation to them."






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