ONE of Victoria’s leading veterinarians claims the State Government decision to allow thoroughbred racing to continue in pandemic-struck Victoria has averted potential animal welfare concerns.

In making the announcement on Monday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said animal welfare played a key part in his Government’s decision to allow racing to continue despite the introduction of Stage 4 restrictions and long-time veterinarian Glenn Robertson-Smith told on Tuesday that he fully agreed with the rationale.

He said a shutdown of racing would have had major ramifications for horses in training and not simply because there are not enough safe agistment paddocks to house them all.

“Shutting it down creates more problems than not shutting it down from both an animal welfare viewpoint and logistic viewpoint,” Robertson-Smith said.

“In this day and age where animal welfare is the single most important aspect of horse racing, where it wasn’t 20 years ago, it means that we need to carefully consider what happens to the horses.

“You can’t shut them down and lock them in a box nor can you shut them down and put them in a paddock where they are not safe.

“If you look at a training facility like Cranbourne with about 800 horses and it shuts down, where do those 800 horses go? You can’t just keep them just locked up in a box.

“They are finely tuned animals and full of beans and you can’t just switch them on and switch them off.

“There is a logistical problem stopping them and having them spell, so if that is not feasible because of limited accommodation and other complications, then the next step is to keep them ticking over, which they are probably better doing from a welfare point of view anyway.

“But, of course, if you shut down racing but maintain training, you’ve got all the costs associated with training with no opportunity to offset them against some stakes money.”

Robertson-Smith said a prolonged halt to the exercise routine of young racehorses could create a series of problems down the track.

“They are built to be exercising, particularly young horses,” he said.

“You want a balance between skeletal development and body development so if you don’t have any exercise, there is a chance their body size gets away from them and their bones are unable to cope with it.

“So, I think it is reasonable to draw the analogy that they are better off ticking over in work than spelling.

“They need to have a tapered preparation and when you tip them out and spell them, they need to go off the feed for a couple of days. You just can’t put them in a paddock straight away. It just doesn’t work.

“There are inherent risks with taking a horse in full work and putting it in a paddock. Is it going to run around and injure itself in the paddock?

“You can’t just put a racehorse out of work and put them in a wire paddock. They have got to go into a proper horse-safe facility with post and rail with those sorts of considerations.

“Also, they don’t always eat as well when they go out of work. A lot of horses like being in a stable environment and like the routine of exercise and feeding.

“All stables, I suspect, would be exercising horses twice a day. They go and work on the track in the morning and treadmill or walk in the afternoon.”

Robertson-Smith said the racing industry was geared towards being able to manage the requirements around warding off the virus.

“It is not hard to maintain social distancing with one person per horse and one person legging up a jockey from behind,” he said.

“By handling horses, you are not contravening social distancing readily. You can maintain your social distance.

“Even here at the track at Cranbourne, we’re scoping horses and doing other things and you just get the strapper to stand back towards the girth and you work on the other side of the horse.

“Social distancing, everyone is taking that seriously as it is one of the most important things for preventing the spread of the virus.” –


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