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Calls for responsible breeding to protect future equine welfare *H&H Plus*


  • H&H speaks to experts from World Horse Welfare, the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and British Breeding to find out what is being done to prevent overbreeding from causing an equine welfare disaster in the face of an uncertain economic future...

    The equestrian world has a “collective responsibility” now as much as ever to protect equine welfare through responsible breeding in the light of likely knock-on effects from the coronavirus pandemic.

    Breeding and welfare organisations are urging people to think carefully, ensuring the balance of supply and demand is met while protecting equine welfare in the face of an uncertain economic future.

    “Supply and demand is at the heart of the equestrian world like any other,” World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H.

    “There will always be a demand for good-quality horses bred for everything from pleasure riding to competition and racing at the highest level. But even before this pandemic struck there was an imbalance, with a huge oversupply of youngstock.

    “The stark reality is that, in the wake of the pandemic and all the turbulence this brings, across the equine sector we are teetering on the edge of a welfare precipice that we have to do everything in our power to avoid falling into.”

    Mr Owers also warned of the impact of unabated breeding.

    “That does not mean not breeding at all – but it is about being as sure as you can be that there will be a secure future for every single foal that is bred – and in such an uncertain world with an uncertain future that is a hugely challenging assessment to make,” he said.

    “The inequity between supply and demand can only get more extreme over the coming months and collectively we have a responsibility to manage the fallout and do all we can to ensure horses don’t suffer as a result.”

    Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association chief executive Claire Sheppard told H&H the organisation believes horse welfare “should be the primary consideration at all stages of the breeding life cycle”.

    “We highlight this through all the work that we do,” she said.

    This includes education through seminars and courses, best practice guidance, policies and codes of practice to support them in understanding and adhering to their long-term responsibilities in relation to the horses in their care or ownership, as well as guides on the TBA website.

    “The pandemic is going to present challenges in all walks of life, and thoroughbred breeding is no exception,” she said.

    “We know from previous economic downturns that the demand for racehorses from owners will decline, and breeders will reduce foal crop sizes accordingly. Currently around half of horses racing in Great Britain are bred in this country, and the current foal crop size is already considerably below what it was in the first decade of this millennium, so we are working from a much smaller base.”

    Ms Sheppard added the TBA works with European and international breeding federations to ensure that the trends in racing and the sales are understood and the health and welfare of the thoroughbred is “at the top of these agendas”.

    It is also working with Weatherbys and Retraining of Racehorses on life-long traceability.

    “Everything we do in the breeding world will support the vital work of the Horse Welfare Board, the industry-wide strategic plan for the welfare of horses bred for racing [news, 27 February] and the industry to put in place evidence-based responses to manage the challenges in our sector that may arise from the pandemic,” she said.

    Eva-Maria Broomer, of British Breeding, told H&H support for breeding for long-term soundness and functionality for the sport “lies at the very heart of what the Futurity does”.

    Dr Broomer added British Breeding kept the basic structures of the evaluation when it took over the Futurity grading system in 2018, but invested in developing the format to help support best breeding practices and capture data for future analysis.

    “The purpose of this is twofold: first of all, we want to provide detailed and meaningful feedback to breeders to support their future breeding decisions,” she said.

    “Secondly, we want to collect data that enables us to capture as comprehensively and objectively as possible the characteristics passed on by certain stallions, and eventually also dam lines, for future analysis. This, again, will eventually support better breeding decisions.

    “For example, breeders interested in a particular stallions can search our database for his offspring. They will not only find photos and videos of the offspring, but also detailed linear scores that document exactly what he has produced. Our system is unique, in that it offers the same evaluation across all studbooks, and therefore does not focus on type, but exclusively on functionality for the sport.”

    With uncertainty around how long travel and social distancing restrictions may continue, British Breeding has moved Futurity online this year, involving videos, Zoom conferences and email feedback, meaning its work can continue.

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