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Godolphin leads way in equine aftercare

Author: Howard Wright

15/06/2017
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As double acts go, Diana Cooper and Di Arbuthnot might not challenge the legacy of Morecambe and Wise, but there is no escaping their enthusiasm to please, nor their passion for the subject of aftercare of racehorses. Both were well to the fore when the International Forum for the Aftercare of Racehorses, the organisation they helped to form, held a seminar that ran parallel with the second Pan American Conference in Washington in May. Cooper, who heads Godolphin charities worldwide, started the ball rolling two years ago, by setting up a meeting of like minds in Kentucky, which was followed by a similar event in Newmarket, also hosted by Godolphin, last summer.

The Washington event was IFAR’s first standalone promotion, and topics covered included all aspects of Thoroughbred aftercare, including post racing options, connecting aftercare and horse owners, and standards for aftercare providers. Arbuthnot, who chairs the IFAR steering group alongside her main role as chief executive of Britain’s leading aftercare charity Retraining of Racehorses, told delegates: “Part of IFAR’s mission is to share our views on aftercare best practices, and having our meetings coincide with the Pan American Conference enabled us to do that with a truly global audience.”

Looking back over the near three years of IFAR’s informal and now formal existence, she added: “It all began over a cup of coffee with Diana Cooper and has advanced from Kentucky to Newmarket to Washington, but it would not have happened but for Godolphin.” On the wider issue of aftercare, Arbuthnot summed up IFAR’s mission by saying: “We all have a shared responsibility for the welfare of racehorses, which extends beyond the track. Across the entire animal welfare debate, the spotlight is on the animal’s quality of life and the emerging concept of a life worth living.

“The welfare of racehorses throughout their lifetime is one of the single biggest issues facing the racing industry. A key function of IFAR is to provide help and support by sharing expertise and good practice on a global basis, whilst recognising cultural differences.” Cooper noted the impact that IFAR has made in a short time when she recalled: “Three of the countries that were represented when we first met in Lexington in 2015 did not have an aftercare programme. In Washington two of them, France and Japan, were able to report huge progress.” Explaining Godolphin’s involvement in its own aftercare programme, she said: “The global operation, which started almost 25 years ago, was established because Sheikh Mohammed’s passion for horses is paramount, which extends to lifetime care, and we have a rehoming programme in all territories: America, Australia, Europe and Japan.”

Godolphin works with local partners to support its own Thoroughbred geldings as they move on to a life after racing, and although individual programmes differ from country to country in some of their details, they all contain basic assessment of the horse in the first place, followed by retraining. As the Godolphin rehoming website points out: “Retired Thoroughbreds are versatile. A retrained Thoroughbred can excel in many disciplines off the track, such as dressage, showjumping, eventing, polo, hunting, for pleasure riding or as a companion horse. With retraining, a Thoroughbred can be the perfect mount for a competent rider.

Our priority is the welfare of the horses, and we want them to be able to go on to successfully fulfil other roles once their racing careers have finished.” Godolphin’s European rehoming centre is run by Jo Brisland and Lisa George at Badlingham, near Chippenham on the outskirts of Newmarket, where the current ‘students’ include Dubai World Cup winners African Story and Prince Bishop. “They are learning to be horses again,” Brisland says. Retraining can go on for six months, including being schooled to hack out in company or alone and introducing them to poles laid flat on the ground at first before being raised to test their ability or otherwise, to jump.

“We find out what the horse will enjoy doing,” Brisland explains, “then we start to look for a home for them.” Ongoing welfare of racehorses has been accorded proper, high level attention only recently, which probably mirrors the changes in public perception over a post war period in which urban affairs have grown to overshadow rural matters in most developed countries. In 2008, when the Japan Racing Association hosted the Asian Racing Conference, the world’s most wide ranging and influential gathering of racing administrators and professionals, in Tokyo, the agenda made no mention of equine welfare.

Two years later, when Racing NSW staged the next ARC in Sydney, the subject was squarely on the list for debate, and it has remained there at three subsequent such conferences and will no doubt figure again when the event reaches Seoul next May. Australia has reacted particularly vigorously in this regard, following two heavy blows inflicted by animal welfare protesters, firstly against jump racing and more significantly in February 2015 after an explosive TV programme about cruelty within greyhound racing. Heading the fight on behalf of Racing Australia’s national Retirement for Racehorses Committee, of which he is chairman, is Dr Eliot Forbes, a figure well known in Dubai for his spell as the ERA’s chief veterinary officer and now chief executive of Racing Queensland.

Forbes, whose organisation has introduced the most comprehensive process for tracing Thoroughbreds from birth to retirement from racing among all international authorities, spelt out the dangers of ignoring public opinion in his Washington presentation, which is available for viewing under the Resources link of IFAR’s website, internationalracehorseaftecare.com. Recalling the dark days of public outrage, he said: “The message was clear. Welfare must take centre stage in the conduct of horse racing.” It is a message that IFAR, with Godolphin leading the way, is hoping to make a worldwide mission.

Howard Wright

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