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THE ‘Strategy for the Horse Industry in England and Wales’1, which was published last week, is welcome, both in its own right and in affording proper recognition to the contribution of the horse industry to the national economy. Speaking at the launch, Mr Jim Knight, parliamentary undersecretary at DEFRA, described the document as ‘a significant milestone in the strengthening partnership between government and the horse industry’ and ‘testimony to the major contribution which the horse industry makes both to our economy in general and to the lives of so many people in cities and rural areas across England and Wales’. Mr Graham Cory, chairman of the British Horse Industry Confederation, which prepared the strategy in partnership with DEFRA, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and the Welsh Assembly Government, pointed out that it was the result of many months of consultation and collaboration encompassing the many varied parts of the horse industry; the challenge now was to deliver the action points that were crucial to its implementation.

The strategy has been developed following consultation on a draft document published in February (VR, March 12, 2005, vol 156, pp 331-332) and aims ‘to foster a robust and sustainable horse industry, increase its economic value, enhance the welfare of the horse, and develop the industry’s contribution to the cultural, social, educational, health and sporting life of the nation’. It sets out a vision of where the industry aspires to be in 10 years, how its various components fit into this picture and how the Government can help it along this path. A key aim is to harness the enthusiasm and increase cooperation among the various sectors. The challenge here is identified in the foreword to the document from a number of equestrian organisations that have contributed to the strategy, including the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA):

‘Given the large number of people who ride horses or drive carriages, the larger number who work in horse-related businesses and the still larger number who have an interest in horses which stops short of active participation, some might imagine that the horse industry constitutes one of the most influential pressure groups in England and Wales today. They might also imagine that this multi-billion pound industry would be well able to coordinate its efforts, improve its economic efficiency and easily persuade new people into the sport.

‘Unfortunately they would be wrong in both their imaginings. As a community we have too long been punching beneath our weight and have lacked either the will or the wit to capitalise on the strength which comes from effective and wholehearted cooperation.’

The strategy proposes to put that right through the implementation of eight strategic aims. These are: to bring the horse industry together and develop its national, regional and local impact; to increase participation in equestrianism and the social contribution of the horse industry; to boost the economic performance of equestrian businesses; to raise equestrian skills, training and standards; to increase access to off-road riding and carriage driving; to consider the environmental impact of the horse; to encourage sporting excellence; and to improve the quality and breeding of horses and ponies.

Although mainly concerned with strengthening the economics of the industry, the strategy recognises that the health and welfare of horses, ponies and donkeys is ‘fundamental to the industry’s growth’ and ‘vital to all eight strategic aims’. In view of this, equine health and welfare is the subject of a separate but related ‘Health and Welfare Strategy for the Horse, Pony and Donkey’2, which is being developed in parallel as part of the Government’s overall Animal Health and Welfare Strategy. A draft strategy, produced by a working party led by BEVA, was issued for consultation in August this year; a final version should be ready for publication in 2006. The initial draft recognises that the welfare of horses, ponies and donkeys depends on the type of animal and the uses to which it is put, and considers various different groups separately. It sets out a vision for the next 10 years in which welfare is improved in all sectors, and under which all those who are responsible for equine health and welfare have sufficient knowledge for proper equine care and management, and will use that knowledge to meet their responsibilities effectively. As always, there is a difference between defining a vision and actually achieving it; however, in this instance, a priority should be to establish more precisely the current animal health and welfare status in each of the different sectors, to establish a benchmark against which progress can be judged.

The publication earlier this month of a new edition of the ‘Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines Compendium for Horses, Ponies and Donkeys’3 represented another significant step in developing a national strategy for horses. The compendium, produced by the National Equine Welfare Council, draws together guidance on best practice and aims to promote sound management, husbandry and welfare practices among everyone involved with equine species (VR, December 10, 2005, vol 157, p 754).

Taken together, the industry strategy, the welfare compendium and the developing health and welfare strategy are setting a new course in the equine field; the important thing now is to keep up the momentum.

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