Dear Industry Participant,
The world in which the harness racing industry exists today is not the same as it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. Public interest and expectations concerning animal welfare have increased dramatically in that time and social media gives a previously unheard-of voice and platform for both positive and negative publicity.
The science around animal behavior, care and training has also progressed rapidly in this time. We have access to more information and analysis now than ever before, and certainly more than our predecessors in the sport. “It’s the way we’ve always done it”, is no longer a satisfactory answer for many, both within and outside of the industry.
The racing industry has been the subject of increasing scrutiny over recent years, from the 2017 shutdown of Greyhound racing in NSW, to the 2019 media reports pursuing the fate of retired horses across both equine racing codes.
While the grisly abuse of horses at abattoirs did not principally involve the harness code, the code still featured. Despite the great progress harness racing has made in many areas of equine welfare over the past decade we were reminded the hard way that it has never been more vital to ensure – and be able to demonstrate - continuous improvement in welfare at every stage of a Standardbred’s career. This means responsibility up to and including the securing of a suitable post-racing outcome for every horse, with rehoming being the preferred first option for all sound and healthy horses.
HRA’s Equine Traceability and Welfare Strategy has been developed as a consequence of several recent external reviews of the rules, policies and procedures for equine traceability in the harness racing industry. HRA commissioned a harness specific review, known as the Parker Report, in early 2020 and at the same time the Queensland Government conducted a broader review encompassing both equine racing codes. Further a Commonwealth Senate Inquiry into the feasibility of a national horse registry also handed down its recommendations for the equine industry as a whole.
The HRA Equine Traceability and Welfare Strategy acknowledges that while our industry and its participants have taken great strides in recent times with our welfare policies and procedures, there is always more that can be done.
The strategy relies heavily upon industry compliance, and central to this is our industry culture. Harness racing, like many industries, has operated within a bubble for quite some time and this insulated existence can no longer be sustained. Transparency and integrity across all areas, but particularly in welfare matters are critical to harness racing’s ongoing sustainability and success.
Many parts of our strategy are designed to ensure that the industry operates openly and transparently; that participants can proudly state that they are involved in harness racing knowing that it’s most important and visual assets, the horses, are treated with the highest levels of care throughout their career and that the entire industry has a post racing plan that places their welfare first.
HRA’s Equine Traceability and Welfare strategy can be broken down into 8 segments:
Harness Racing as an industry in Australia has many strengths. The Standardbred are a healthy and robust breed with the ability to lead long, sound racing careers with exceptionally low rates of catastrophic injury.
The housing arrangements of most harness racing stables favour outdoor yards and paddocks, and often pair or group situations rather than individual stabling which allows for more freedom to express natural behavior such as mutual grooming, play and grazing.
Another strength lies in the availability of the online portal HarnessWeb and its ability to input, collect and report data from one central source.
But perhaps harness racing’s greatest strength is its people. A high percentage of small and hobby participants who are involved for the love of the sport and the love of the horse.
That’s why we know these changes will be embraced in the knowledge that they are being put in place to protect our greatest assets - the horses, and in turn, the industry itself.
It is vital that, as an industry, harness racing takes this opportunity to be masters of our own destiny, to create workable, sustainable solutions for ourselves. Practical industry knowledge is critical in developing these solutions and is a luxury that some other industries have not been afforded.
We can either reform ourselves for the love of our horses and our sport, or we can have it done to us – with bureaucracy, red tape and unworkable, impractical regulations.
The industry will see many changes over the coming weeks, months and years. While change can be difficult, confusing or inconvenient to some, it must be remembered that the Standardbred is our common passion and that these changes are for them and for the future of our sport.
That said, we know that all within the industry will play their role.
Chief Executive – signed on behalf of the HRA Chairman and Executive