12 April 1996

Topics equine to the fore at this forum

The Princess Royal was among the speakers and the Atlantic Olympics among the topics air at the 1996 National Equine Forum.

Ann Rogers reports

DECLARING the horse an agricultural animal would not solve tax problems, junior farm minister Angela Browning told delegates to the 1996 National Equine Forum.

Though working horses on farms can be considered to be agricultural animals, leisure horses cannot, she said. The matter had been considered many times and she was not convinced that a change would help.

"But use me as a gate keeper in order to access dialogue with other departments," urged Mrs Browning, who opened the forum in her role as "Minister for the Horse".

One of the tax problems currently concerning the industry is rating revaluations. The British Horse Society and the Association of British Riding Schools are campaigning for fair treatment for equestrian establishments across the country and BHS chief executive Tim Eastwood is keen to have first-hand information of any extreme cases.

Sir Adam Butler of the Horse and Pony Taxation Committee spoke of concessions of £2500 in rateable value that had been obtained for owners of horse breeding establishments. They were intended to help the small breeder, he said, and he hoped they would be increased proportionally when re-valuations were carried out.

Welfare

The welfare of our horses is at greater risk from road accidents than from maltreatment or neglect, said Tim Eastwood, BHS chief executive. It is estimated that 3000 horses are injured on the road each year – five times the number of horses taken into care through cruelty or neglect.

With that in mind the BHS is working to educate riders and drivers and to provide as much off-road riding as possible.

So far more than 60,000 riders have taken the BHS riding and road safety test and more are being urged to take training.

The BHS Arrow – Beyond the Millennium project aims to open all bridleways and provide a network of circular rides. A total of 14 trail guidebooks have already been published and 5000 miles of bridleway opened up. The access programme targets Devon, Essex, Warwickshire, Lancashire and Wales, all of which have high horse populations but little provision for off-road riding.

Both the access and road safety initiatives are aided by a grant of £100,000 from the Elise Pilkington Charitable Trust.

Grass sickness

A possible link with fusaria fungi is one of the lines of research into grass sickness being followed by the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh, said Dr David Doxey of the department of veterinary clinical studies.

Grass sickness, which decimated the Scottish working horse population at the start of this century and is uncommon in southern England, is no longer an untreatable disease but only a small proportion of grass sick horses are treated.

The patients stamina to survive three weeks of starvation must be taken into account before treatment is commenced. "Do not try to treat a horse if it is not interested in eating or unable to eat," advised Dr Doxey.

Human contact has proved to be a vital factor in an animals recovery from this disease which occurs between April and July and peaks in May. Stress is associated with 50% of cases.

Riding week

The British Equestrian Trade Association announced plans for a National Riding Week for Easter 1997 to encourage more people to take up the sport. The Princess Royal has agreed to become the weeks president.

In her address to the forum the Princess spoke of the importance of horses to people and to the countryside and the importance of the business that horses generate. She commended the colleges for their equine activity but pointed out the need for more business opportunities and business training for those who had completed equine studies.

Breeding

Professor W R (Twink) Allen of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association Equine Fertility Unit spoke of plans to establish a centre of excellence in equine technology for non-racehorse performance horses. Artificial insemination and embryo transplant were among the techniques to be researched and made more readily available to performance horses. Services would include the recovery and freezing of embryos from young females which have yet to prove themselves in competition.

Animal rights

"We cannot accept the spurious concept of animal rights, which threatens the whole horse industry today and in the future," said chairman of the British Field Sports Society Charles Goodson-Wickes MP. The cost, he said, was "10s of millions of £s a year."

"It is sometimes difficult to understand their care for animals when hunt saboteurs endanger horses and hounds."

He spoke of animal rights supporters opposition to the riding of horses and keeping pets and expressed concern that the public should not be hoodwinked by them.

Restructure

Dressage, horse trials and other sporting disciplines currently under the jurisdiction of the British Horse Society are to become independent legal entities affiliated to the society.

Together with the British Show Jumping Association they will form the British international sporting body responsible for dealing with all competitive matters. The restructured BHS will be a federation of organisations and individuals concerned with equine activity.

Atlanta

An early morning start to competitions in order to avoid the heat of the day is one of the many steps being taken to ensure the welfare of horses taking part in the Atlanta Olympics.

Research and preparation for the games included transporting eight European three-day event horses to Atlanta and carrying out field trials. As a result some modifications of the test for the three-day event have been made.

Committee

BHS executive, Tim Eastwood, suggested horses and ponies should become the concern of the Farm Animals Welfare Committee rather than that of any future committee for the welfare of companion animals.

Pictures by Colin Molyneux (Bruce Coleman Ltd)

Pictures by Thomas Buchholz (Bruce Coleman Ltd)

The aim of National Riding Week is to promote the sport to more people.

The Princess Royal has agreed to be president of National Riding Week.

"Use me as a gatekeeper," said Angela Browning, the junior

farm minister whose special responsibilities include the horse.