Vital Research & Development in the Horse Industry

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20th June 2011

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC)

RIRDC is a statutory authority established by the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989 (PIERD Act).  The Corporation was established by the Australian Government to work with industry to invest in research and development for a more profitable, sustainable and dynamic rural sector. Logans is a long term supporter of horse research via RIRDC, who have directed more than $11million of funding and donations since 1995 to address issues of importance for the Australian horse industry. The government matches dollar for dollar any donations made to the RIRDC.

Major challenges facing the industry include drought and feed availability, economic issues including continued impacts of the global financial crisis, risk of future disease impacts associated with the failure of the broader horse industries to implement an Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement (EADRA), and planning and preparing for a future under climate change. From a research perspective the vulnerability of a research program dependent on voluntary contributions from industry stakeholders and the lack of support for a research levy mechanism to support horse research, also represents a significant challenge for the Horse R&D Program.

Since the commencement of the Horse Program voluntary financial support has been received from Racing Victoria, Equestrian Federation of Australia, the Australian Stock Horse Society, the Australian Quarter Horse Association, the Australian Equine Veterinary Association, the Australian Thoroughbred Breeders Club, Hawkesbury, Mr Gerry Harvey, Coolmore Australia, Tyreel Stud, Alanbridge Stud, Logan's Insurance, Peptech Animal Health, Magic Millions, International Racehorse Transport, the Paint Horse Association, Ms Barb Vial, Dolly van Zaane and the Australian Harness Racing Council.

RIRDC Overview

The number of horses in Australia is estimated to be 1.2 million. Of these between 10-50 per cent are registered. There are estimated to be 300,000 feral horses - most in the north of Australia. Australian Racing Board records indicate that the total number of mare returns has continued to fall over the past three years while the number of Thoroughbred mares bred in the 2008-09 season was reported as 26,382 producing 16,112 live foals. The number of horses registered in Australia in 2008-09 was the highest for since 2000-01. Yearling sales in 2009 saw a decline in all performance measures perhaps reflecting the global financial crisis.

Horse breeding and racing (particularly Thoroughbreds) contribute more to the national economy than other breeds or activities. In 2008-09 there were 390 race clubs maintaining 367 racetracks. These clubs held 2,681 race meetings during which 19,438 races were conducted with 193,249 starters. Race statistics had declined in the 2007-08 year as a result of the impact of the equine influenza outbreak and rebounded in the 2008-09 year.

While Thoroughbred breeding and racing represent the largest contributor to the Australian economy, a large number of other breeds make important contributions in both economic and social terms. In addition, horse-related activities also make major contributions to our society including for example campdrafting, rodeo, polocrosse, pony club, endurance riding, equestrian federation activities and pleasure/leisure riding.

Australia has the enviable reputation of being free of many of the major endemic horse diseases that occur around the world. Australia suffered an equine influenza outbreak in 2007 that was ultimately controlled and the virus eradicated from the country. In 2008 and 2009, Hendra virus cases have occurred at four locations in Queensland (Redlands and Proserpine in 2008, and Cawarral and Bowen in 2009). Two people were infected with Hendra virus in 2008 and one person died. One person was infected in 2009 and died as a result of the infection. Hendra virus remains as an important cause of serious disease with a high risk of fatality in both horses and humans.

The global financial crisis has had major impacts worldwide on horse sales, including a significant decline in sales performances in Australia in early 2009. Across many sectors of the economy Australia appears to have come through the crisis in better shape than many other countries but the extent and rate of recovery of all sectors of the economy remains unclear. Drought and uncertainties over potential impacts of climate change on rural industries continue to present major challenges for all animal production systems including horses. Recent rains have brought relief to many areas of the country but there remain some areas where poor rainfall is continuing to limit pasture production.

Key long-term strategies

The goal of the Horse Five-Year R&D Plan is for the Australian horse industry to be nationally and internationally recognised for its excellence as a reputable user and supplier of quality horses, products and services; and for the industry to expand in the global market by having the requisite skills and knowledge for efficient, profitable and sustainable production.

The objectives of the Horse Five-Year R&D Plan are to (percentage of funds allocated to each objective in brackets):

  • Reduce the incidence and impact of diseases and parasites in horses - 30 per cent
  • Reduce injury and breakdown of horses in work and training - 30 per cent
  • Improve productivity in breeding - 15 per cent
  • Improve the safety of industry participants and the welfare of horses, and enhance the environmental sustainability of the industry - 10 per cent
  • Promote the quality, quantity and effective communication of R&D for the horse industry - 15 per cent.

 

For more information go to http://www.rirdc.gov.au/home-page.cfm