I write to provide you with an update on the progress of Racing Victoria’s equine welfare action plan and the investments being made to enhance the industry’s efforts in this critical space.
With the support of all within the Victorian racing industry, we have been able to make important strides to increase our efforts to deliver programs and pathways to support the great work of many owners and participants in caring for our equine athletes at every stage of their lives.
Since January 2020, the Victorian racing industry has directed $10 million to delivering its equine welfare action plan. Of that investment, $6.8 million or 68% has been contributed via a 2% prizemoney allocation, with the balance coming directly from RV funds.
A further $15 million is scheduled to be spent on the equine welfare action plan over the next 18 months as we expand upon the initiatives progressed since the start of 2020 and the roll out of new programs.
The projected $15 million investment will include a continued 2% prizemoney contribution from industry participants which will equate to $7 million, with the balance of $8 million to again come directly from RV funds.
I want to share with you an outline of the priority projects and key outcomes achieved over the past 18 months. Further below is a breakdown of our equine welfare investment over this period. The key projects and initiatives have included:
- Expanding our dedicated in-house equine welfare taskforce – growing from two members at the start of 2020 to a team of seven to respond to the challenges facing the industry and deliver our 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 our 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;
- Launching the Off The Track Community – 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, we received new data on 916 horses;
- Increasing welfare checks - our equine welfare team conducted welfare checks on over 1600 current and retired racehorses in the past 18 months to ensure each one is receiving the appropriate care they deserve. When required, we 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 our 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; and
- Delivering year-round education and awareness for the community – this includes an extensive ‘Here for the Horses’ communication program conducted throughout the spring of 2020 to showcase industry efforts.
As part of the next phase of the equine welfare action plan;
- We will formalise our emergency care program – which will support those Victorian racehorse owners facing tough circumstances outside of their own control, including a natural disaster;
- Launch a new Foster Program – to assist those thoroughbreds in need of short to medium term care;
- Add additional features to the Off The Track Community – 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;
- Introduce an Acknowledged Retirement Farms Program – similar to RV’s Acknowledged Retrainer network, to provide owners with further guidance and assistance when retiring their much-loved racehorse; and
- Continue to review and assess our 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.
The total spend on the equine welfare action plan for the 18 months ending June 2021 is summarised as follows:
- $2.5m – Veterinary Services = Contribution to Raceday Services (including 60 vets working across the state, pre-race inspections, post-racing scoping and emergency care) and Operational Delivery
- $2.3m – Risk Reduced Racing = Research and Innovation (incl. standing CT scanner), Diagnostic Imaging Subsidy Program, First Aid Equipment, Infectious Disease Control (incl. Strangles Outbreak Assistance for Trainers, Cost of Testing, Biosecurity Equipment)
- $1.7m – Visibility = Online Traceability Platform (OTT Community), Data Collection and Audits
- $1.2m – Operational Delivery = Equine Welfare Taskforce, Program Development, Rules Compliance Enforcement, Equine Welfare Advisory Council
- $1.1m – Post-Racing Programs = Off The Track Acknowledged Retrainer Program, Off The Track Competitions and Sponsorships, RESET Program, Off The Track Community Education and Support, New Pathways Support
- $0.7m – Culture & Awareness = Industry Education and Training, Community Awareness and Communications
- $0.5m – Safety Net = Welfare Inspections and Investigations, Emergency Aid, Humane Onsite Euthanasia Program
I hope this update has provided some further clarity on the work being undertaken by the equine welfare team in Victoria to support the wider industry and its efforts.
If you would like to learn more, you may wish to listen to an extended radio interview that I conducted on RSN this morning. Click here to listen.
If you have any questions about the equine welfare program, need more information about our pathway programs or are looking to provide feedback or suggestions, please email email@example.com
General Manager, Equine Welfare