The "leisure" sector of the horse industry!!

by Heath Ryan | April 23, 2010

Below is my letter to Federal Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, regarding his recent statement of support for "voluntary EI vaccination". I think we need to make sure that the minister understands that our "lesiure" sector of the horse industry is not small and is certainly not insignificant.


Dear Minister Burke,


I write to you regarding the recent statement you made supporting voluntary EI vaccination. Your stance on this matter concerns me greatly; you appear to have ignored the vast majority of veterinary experts who are clearly against EI vaccination in an EI free country and you show little understanding of the horse industry as a whole.

In times like this the horse industry tends to be categorised into the "racing sector" and the "non-racing sector". The non-racing sector is commonly referred to as the "leisure industry" or "recreational sector". The terms "leisure" and "recreational" are very misleading. In every way the “leisure” sector is by far the largest sector of the horse industry; in fact the thoroughbred industry accounts for only some 10% of Australia's horse population.

According to the registrar of racehorses there are around 13,800 new thoroughbred registrations undertaken each year and registration is compulsory in the racing sector. Yet even in discussions regarding the EADRA undertaken by the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (24 September 2008) it was estimated that in total around "50,000 - 60,000 horses are registered each year". So the vast majority of registered horses are clearly not thoroughbred racehorses. It was also stated that "the fact remains that the largest number of horse registrations are with pony clubs and small breed societies". Now this figure of 50,000 to 60,000 only refers to "registered horses". It is a fact that in the non-racing sector the vast majority of horses are unregistered; horse registration is not a requirement for most equestrian competitions and activities. As an estimate I would say only around 1 in every 30 horses in my immediate area are registered with a federation or breed society and I would anticipate that the ratio of unregistered horses would actually increase in the country areas of Australia. As you can see the "leisure industry" is not small and we are certainly not insignificant.

I am just one example of an individual in the "leisure industry". I am an Olympian, I own a herd of over 50 broodmares, I have well in excess of 100 horses at my facility, I sell horses domestically and Internationally, I train riders from all over Australia as well as visiting International riders. Yet I am part of the “leisure” industry.  

The "leisure industry" not only provides an income stream for its many participants and their employees but within the horse industry itself the "leisure industry" also provides the largest proportion of business to local feed stores, saddleries, veterinarians, farriers, float and truck manufacturers, etc.

During the 2007 EI outbreak all aspects of my business ceased for several months. I could no longer compete, I could no longer accept Australian or International riders for training, I could no longer accept mares for my stallions to serve, I could no longer accept horses for training and most importantly I could not even sell a single horse in order to assist me in maintaining my cash flow. Other individuals in the “leisure” sector also lost their only means of income, they were unable to trade domestically or internationally, some individuals lost their businesses as a result, some individuals lost their homes as a result and many are still feeling the aftermath of the 2007 EI outbreak.

Please keep all this in mind next-time you talk about how EI caused massive job losses in the racing sector; you should consider the even larger number of people who were affected in the non-racing sector. Our decision against "voluntary EI vaccination" is not because another outbreak of EI won't affect us! In fact our decision against “voluntary EI vaccination” is because the EI outbreak affected the “leisure” industry so greatly - we never want to see EI return to the Australian horse population again.

Voluntary EI Vaccination is certainly not the answer to keeping EI out of Australia. Strict quarantine is the only effective strategy to achieve this aim.  Having a quantity of vaccinated horses within Australia will actually ensure that the spread of EI goes undetected until it is too late to eradicate. EI vaccination is known to mask the signs of EI; remember Snitzel, the shuttle stallion that was named in the Callinan Inquiry as the horse who brought EI into Australia, was in fact vaccinated and hence was initially undetected as he exhibited reduced signs of infection.

As far as your statement relating to voluntary EI vaccinations allowing horse movement and racing to continue in the face of another outbreak; this simply will not be the case. All indications at present are that the State Chief Veterinary Officers will impose lock-downs again if another outbreak of EI occurs. This will involve all horses, vaccinated or not.   

Even within the thoroughbred racing sector voluntary EI vaccination is not unanimously supported. Many owners and trainers understand that this is not a sensible or cost-effective strategy for the future of Australia's horse industry.

I am unsure why you have chosen to ignore the opinions of numerous expert veterinarians, peak industry bodies and individuals within the horse industry; all of who oppose voluntary EI vaccination. Some examples of these include:

Australian Veterinary Association –states “there can be no justification for this decision on scientific, economic or practical grounds”. Media release 25 March 2010  

Harness Racing Association – states “by allowing for voluntary vaccination, Australia would be ignoring the weight of scientific and veterinary opinion that universally warns that vaccination will mask the presence of EI in infected animals into the future”. Media release 26 March 2010

Equestrian Australia – states “EA believes that continued EI vaccination of Australian horses without the presence of the disease is not an appropriate or effective risk management tool to prevent the introduction of EI into Australia again”. Media release 10 April 2010

Australian Horse Industry Council – states “the Australian Horse Industry Council (AHIC) has a policy that Equine Influenza (EI) vaccination should not be permitted in the absence of an incursion of EI virus”. In an AHIC meeting held on 26 January 2010 there was unanimous support of this policy. Present at this meeting were representatives from:

  • Arabian Horse Society
  • Australian Pony Stud Book Society
  • Australian Stock Horse Society
  • Equestrian Australia
  • Harness Racing Australia
  • HorseSA
  • National Campdraft Council of Aust
  • Polocrosse Association of Australia Inc
  • Pony Club Australia (observer)
  • Queensland Horse Council
  • Riding Pony Society of Australia
  • Victorian Horse Council Inc.
  • Welsh Pony & Cob Society of Australia Inc
  • Western Australia Horse Council

It is an absolute fact that EI was bought into Australia by a thoroughbred shuttle stallion. It is a fact that at that time thoroughbred racehorses were undertaking seriously reduced periods of quarantine when compared to non-racing horses. It is a fact that during the 2007 EI outbreak the government subsidies were heavily weighted toward the thoroughbred sector. It is a fact that during the outbreak thoroughbreds were given priority for assessments to move and initial priority for vaccination. After all this, the then Minister Peter McGauran, left his position and became the CEO of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia.

Now we find that once again right now in Australia, thoroughbred racehorses undertake shorter quarantine periods than non-racing horses. Then to add to this we hear your statement of support for voluntary EI vaccination made in the face of an unmitigated swell of support against vaccination. I’m sorry but I can't help but view this whole situation with cynicism. It appears to me that an obvious serious miscarriage of justice is about to be perpetuated on the horse industry as a whole. I can only hope you re-consider your position on this matter.


Yours sincerely,


Heath Ryan