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Seamus Mullins suggests collective responsibility is key to meeting welfare aims

Thu 20 Feb 2020

Former National Trainers Federation president Seamus Mullins believes keeping track of horses after racing will prove the biggest challenge in successfully implementing landmark recommendations put forward by the Horse Welfare Board.

The collective lifetime responsibility of racehorses is one of four key outcomes from 20 recommendations put forward in the HWB’s five-year plan, which was unveiled to the media at the British Horseracing Authority’s headquarters in London on Thursday.

Although Mullins takes the necessary measures to ensure the welfare of horses from his yard after their time on the track has come to an end, he feels it could prove a difficult process to establish.

Mullins said: “I think the traceability of the lifespan of a horse – from birth, through the sales, to the pre-training and training career – will be fine, but the difficulty will surround the first stage once they finish racing.

“I personally take great pride – and our owners always commend us – when we find good, traceable homes for their horses, that if for any reason they want to pass the horse on again, or if there is a problem, we will always have the horse back.

“At the end of the Flat season there is a great market for horses to continue their racing (in different) jurisdictions and that can be traced, it is when they go into the general sports world it makes it difficult.

“Hopefully this board is trying to buy in with other sports boards to help combat this. Owners and trainers need to be responsible in vetting and seeing that the horses are passed on in the correct manner.”

One thing Mullins is keen to ensure is that the burden of retired racehorse welfare is not solely placed on the shoulders of trainers.

He said: “Quite often if a horse doesn’t have racing value, sadly we get left with it and the bills that go with it. As a whole we take the responsibility for it, but this board has recognised that it can’t just be left to trainers and that owners have to take responsibility.

“It is a conversation over the next period on how we do that, whether there is a levy on horses in training which goes to their retirements – we’ve got to think outside the box.

“From a trainer’s point of view and chairman of the NTF’s National Hunt committee, we will embrace this.”

Fellow trainer and HWB member James Given also suggested information on what horses do after racing could be made more accessible.

He said: “We need to have traceability from the 30-day foal notification, through early life, training and racing, retirement, rehoming and in future careers.

“It is essential to know what is happening so we can be accountable for these periods and identify areas of vulnerability.

“This is a responsibility of all who are involved in the horse’s life. It is not just the practitioners or the owners – it is also the responsibility of administrators and those that hold information that will help us account for where these horses are and what they are doing.”

The Group-race winning handler stressed it is also important to have in place a satisfactory euthansia code to eliminate any negative perceptions of such a process.

He added: “In being responsible for the start of the horse’s life, we are responsible for it’s end.

“We recommend a clear euthansia code is developed, so there is a decision-making tree that will help people make this difficult decision at difficult times and give clarity to that decision.

“We need to have information so that assumptions are not made.”

While use of the whip was identified as an area of public concern following polls carried out by the HWB, it was suggested more work in reducing the number of fatalities on track could help the perception of the sport.

Barry Johnson, chairman of the HWB board, said: “While the risk of fatalities in racing is generally low, the sport must remain vigilant and commit to continuous improvement.

“There is an urgency around this issue. Fatalities are routinely cited by top politicians and policy makers as the issue that must remain at the top of racing’s agenda.

“We support the current approach of the sport to minimising avoidable risk. We agree that a persistent, long-term focus on driving down risk is the best way forward.”

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