R. J. Rose

Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation
PO Box 4776, Kingston ACT 2604

In Australia, there are about 1.2 million horses used for racing, equestrian sports, recreation and for meat products. The thoroughbred and harness racing sector are of major financial importance, with large turnovers on the TABs. The Equestrian Federation has 500 registered clubs, 13,800 members and 28,500 registered horses. Sixty thousand young Australians are members of pony clubs. More than one million horses are kept on Australian farms and those in metropolitan areas provide a major demand for livestock feed. These brief statistics indicate the significance of industry and community involvement.

There are a number of equine research and development (R&D) programs throughout the world and these programs are funded in a variety of ways. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that unless there is a clear horse industry focus in translating these R&D programs to the industry needs, long term support for research will not be forthcoming and the results of the research largely ignored by the horse industry. This paper describes the formation and evolution of an equine R&D program in Australia that has had a strong industry focus and involvement.

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) is a semi-government R&D corporation which manages R&D projects supported by industry funds for a range of groups and these industry funds are matched dollar for dollar by the Australian government. The areas of R&D managed by RIRDC include: rice, chicken meat, egs, wildflowers, honey bees, asian foods, deer, pasture seeds, organic produce, rare and natural fibres and agroforestry. In 1995, an Equine R&D program commenced under the auspices of RIRDC, with the appointment of a committee which included scientists with expertise in research and those with knowledge and expertise in various sectors of the horse industry. The program commenced with about 85% of its financial support from a registration fee on racehorses, which generated about $300,000 per annum with another $65,000 per annum from a variety of horse industry groups including: the Australian Harness Racing Council, the Equestrian Federation of Australia, the Australian Stock Horse Society, the Australian Quarter Horse Association, the Australian Equine Veterinary Association and Thoroughbred Breeders Australia. With the dollar for dollar matching by the government, this has enabled a total annual program of $730,000. The Committee has worked closely with the Australian Horse Industry Council in promoting the Equine R&D Program and in defining the R&D needs of the horse industry.

It became clear in the early phase of the program that communication with the horse industry would be a key to further horse industry support and this communication program has involved a number of major projects:

  1. A survey of the research needs of the horse industry, involving more 3500 questionnaires distributed to all the major horse groups throughout Australia, following initial interviews with focus groups.

  2. A major workshop involving researchers and horse industry personnel to identify the R&D priorities for the horse industry.

  3. Preparation of a 5 year strategic plan for the horse industry, which was circulated to all national horse associations for comment and also to the major international research funding bodies.

  4. Development of a quarterly newsletter and an internet web site ( to communicate the results of the R&D program to the horse industry.

  5. Annual review of the program strategies with the major horse industry groups.

From initial consultations with industry, an interim set of strategies was developed to provide guidance to applicants for funds through the R&D Program:

These strategies were general in their nature and the object of the extensive industry consultations, which have included face to face meetings and an extensive independent survey, is to establish a clear view of the types and fields of research that will benefit the industry. From extensive consultation with the industry and feedback on the five year plan, specific program strategies have been identified.

Manage horse industry and government investment in research and development to:

The R&D Committee agreed to do this by:

The RIRDC Equine R&D program is now in its 5th year and has widespread support from the horse industry. Details of the statistical analysis of the research priorities for each of 52 questions allowed an overall score to be developed for the priorities for research. This is presented in a table format below (Table 1), with rankings into quartiles, identifying the highest priorities, high priorities, medium priorities and low priorities. The material in the table also includes industry assessments of areas where provision of additional information was considered important. The numerical score indicates where the particular research priority ranked within the 52 priorities that we identified from focus group interviews with a wide industry base.

The R&D program has a close relationship to the horse industry and has a major focus on ensuring that the R&D is relevant to industry needs and that the outcomes of the research are promoted to the horse industry through publications, the newsletter and the internet site. The Australian Harness Racing Council have provided strong financial support for the program.







1. Respiratory diseases (including viral)

14. Treatment and prevention of foal diseases

27. Determination of the different effects of training and competing on hard and soft ground

40. Breeding the right type of temperament for competition events

2. Development of vaccines against equine diseases

15. Effects of training conditions and determination of stress levels in performance horses

28. Determination of the causes of wastage and breakdown in the racing and breeding industries

41. Prevention and treatment of stringhalt

3. Foot problems of horses

16. Information on determination of horse fitness

29. Prevention of botulism

42. Measures to combat plant poisonings

4. Best feeds for growth and development

17. Measures to combat worm problems

30. Treatment of laryngeal hemiplegia ("roaring", "broken wind")

43. Information on travel sickness in horses

5. Determination of the value of feed supplements and electrolytes

18. Treatments for navicular disease and seedy toe

31. Optimal training programs - training in short bursts or more prolonged period away from the track

44. Information on floating horses: safe travel, facing front or back, maximum amount of time for travel

6. Assessment and treatment of degenerative joint disease (arthritis)

19. Treatment and prevention of laminitis

32. Influence of feed on temperament, especially for competition

45. Better dentistry

7. Information on horse lameness

20. Determination of withholding times for drugs in performance horses

33. Determination of feeds that will produce optimal performance in equestrian events

46. Fodder utilisation and relationship to teeth problems

8. Information on horse nutrition

21. Independent information on commercial products available to the horse industry

34. Determination of the efficacy of acupuncture treatments

47. Effects of repeat season breeding on shuttle stallions

9. Research into assessment of fitness and how hard to train horses

22. Efficacy of horse chiropractic

35. Efficacy of herbal supplements

48. Frozen semen - distribution methods and how to obtain the most reliable results

10. Treatments for tendon injuries

23. Improving the quality control of feed supplied by feed manufacturers

36. Effect of diet (vitamins, minerals, trace elements) on conception

49. Race track design

11. Treatment and prevention of colic

24. Improving horse shoes

37. Improving the conception rates of mares

50. Making artificial insemination more user friendly

12. Determination and treatment of poor performance in athletic horses

25. Prevention and treatment of shin soreness in young horses

38. Prevention and treatment of tetanus

51. Freezing technologies for semen

13. Improving pasture quality, including mineral content of soils

26. Measures to enable determination of fitness in performance horses

39. Determination of the usefulness of herbal medicine

52.Artificial insemination research, including methods of collection



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