Open Letter to the Canberra Community on Equine Welfare
Not many workplaces are bustling in Canberra at 3.30am. At Thoroughbred Park that’s when the workday to care for 300 horses begins. It may be freezing, windy or foggy, regardless, the horse comes first.
Trainers, Jockeys and Stablehands arrive prior to first light, as do the Track Supervisors, to ensure all is well with the facilities before the equine athletes start their day. With multiple tracks in use each morning and an equine pool, there are several daily processes that take place to ensure the welfare of both horse and human.
Each morning stables will be visited by Veterinarians, Farriers, Horse Dentists and Equine Chiropractors. Like any elite athlete, equine athletes are provided with specialist services and the upmost of care. Their diet is strictly prepared and monitored, with their bedding cleaned daily. This athlete is among the most cared for and loved in the world.
The Canberra Racing Club (The Club) prides itself on its approach to equine welfare and its ambition to be a leader in this space. The Club employs an Equine Welfare Officer to investigate any injuries and near miss events that occur during training, just as they occur with all elite athletes. In some cases, recommendations are made to alter regulations or infrastructure to improve safety and welfare. The Equine Welfare Officer visits all on-course stables to conduct quarterly audits and identify potential hazards to ensure the horse is kept as safe as possible.
These processes are in addition to processes carried out by Racing Stewards and Veterinary Officers that provide further oversight of all Thoroughbred activities occurring within Thoroughbred Park.
Thoroughbred Racing is a heavily regulated sport in Australia. In 2022, a Thoroughbred can be traced from being a newborn foal to its first home on retirement from racing. In 2021, the Club undertook a review into welfare where six recommendations were made. Two of the recommendations need the assistance of the ACT Government to implement. This would enable us to ensure we are industry leaders in equine welfare.
The issue of not being able to trace a Thoroughbred beyond the first owner onwards throughout their retirement needs to be and indeed can be corrected. Often Thoroughbreds will be transferred or sold to persons with no connection to racing.
The Club and Racing NSW have introduced Local Rules prohibiting a person from transporting a horse to a knackery or abattoir. There is a strongest of desires to ensure that no Thoroughbred finds itself transported to one of these facilities and there are serious penalties if they do. Since its introduction in March 2018, nobody in Canberra has breached this rule providing heartfelt comfort as the horse and its wellbeing is central to our existence.
Whilst rules provide a strong base with which Racing Authorities can deal with racing participants, they have their limitations with respect to persons unconnected to racing. The Club is looking to work with the ACT Government to further the tracing of Thoroughbreds in the ACT well beyond retirement from racing and allowing access to retired Thoroughbreds to ensure they enjoy a long, happy and healthy life. It is hard to accept that we register our beloved Dogs and soon Cats with the Government and they can be traced at any point in time, yet a Thoroughbred does not require any registration with Government and is essentially viewed as livestock, not a much loved retired athlete.
A magnificent 500kg athlete that has been pampered and cared for without limit during their racing career is not a piece of livestock in the communities’ eyes, nor in the eyes of the ACT Racing Industry.
The Club is seeking to not only have our cherished horses registered post racing but also to be able to proactively inspect them to ensure their wellbeing is maintained throughout their retirement.
The Club acknowledges and respects the role of RSPCA ACT. The Club looks forward to strengthening its relationship with RSCPA ACT given a common will to ensure the welfare of all horses. In so doing developing a collaborative effort in making the ACT a national leader with respect to the care of Thoroughbreds.
Every Thoroughbred, irrespective of its racing performance, is entitled to a quality home on retirement. The Canberra Racing Club is a financial contributor to Team Thoroughbred (Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division). This financial commitment from the Club ensures that every horse trained at Thoroughbred Park on retirement has a pathway to a quality home.
If they are retired elsewhere, the Club needs to be able to know where they are and inspect them to ensure they are adequately cared for. If they are retired to somebody outside of the Industry, the Club cannot currently do this and we would welcome the ACT Government giving us these inspection powers to alter this.
The horse always comes first for the Canberra Racing Club. It is our commitment to the community that a Canberra horse will be cared for from birth throughout a long and happy retirement in Canberra. The Club would welcome the support of the ACT Government to enable us to achieve these objectives.
Pictured: Canberra Racing Club Chief Executive Officer Andrew Clark with Loafing