Opened by Lord Gardiner the Under Secretary State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, the National Equine Forum yet again excelled in offering everyone opportunity to learn about so many important topics that influence and affect the Equine industry in both the UK and abroad. The announcement that the value of the UK equine industry is internationally recognised as worth an estimated £8 billion per year with overseas at £400 million, alongside being the 4th largest rural employer in the UK was surprising and bought home realisation of the potential impact impending decisions upon Brexit may have upon our industry.

Chaired by HRH Princess Royal, the programme offered an immense supply of information from many key equestrian organisations, researchers and charities – far too many to cover in this brief report, so where it may fall short, please visit the National Equine Forum website to find out more.

So, what might leaving the EU mean for horse owners and those who work with horses? (by the time this report reaches you all and to eliminate risk of error, the caveat is that the most current and up to date information will be available on the Defra website). Basically if you own but don’t move horses into EU there will be no change – horses will continue to need passports and owners will, by 2020 need to have horses microchipped.

If we leave without a deal then the U.K. risks becoming classed as a 3rd country meaning we have to apply for listing as a sanitary county based on our veterinary category. This category defines blood tests about clearance for transit. If not granted we then become classed as an unlisted country therefore no movement of horses abroad is allowed.

We will need to make sure all animals being moved or travelling abroad are tested for diseases (country requirements may differ). There will be need for resident and isolation export health certifications and entry through specified border inspection centres or points. There will be no charge for the ID documentation for transporting but horse owners will have to bear the veterinary and testing for diseases costs associated with countries they wish to take horses through until their final destination. Advise is being given to to check Defra website and ascertain the biosecurity needs for each country allowing a minimum 6 weeks prior to transit. It’ll be super important to plan ahead as, in some cases, not all vets will be able to undertake the required tests and not all Border inspection posts have yet been confirmed so plan ahead for possible change of journey to accommodate border inspection post requirements.

Currently there is no special provision for Ireland and sadly a possible impact may be that horses will not have the free access north to south and vice versa that they currently do.

Recognition was given to 2019 being the 50th year since infancy for the Riding for the Disabled and highlighted the dual benefit the work and involvement of the RDA (and other charities) have for all involved – be they volunteers, participants and their families.

During 2019 working with the British Horse Council, Defra updated the Code of Practice for the Horse and reviewed licensing of riding schools to ensure clarity upon minimum standards for welfare.

Biosecurity featured highly with much discussion and evaluation of recent experiences due to the recent outbreaks of Equine Flu with Defra identifying that much work is in progress to mitigate zoonotic and microbial diseases along trying to reduce use of antibiotics through a 5yr national action plan within the UK involving working with vets and horse owners to reduce further or unnecessary antibiotic use.

Gratitudes were given to those involved with the work of the equine coalition in addressing the Equine Flu outbreak with best advice to vaccinate and it was confirmed there will be a review following the outbreak. Biosecurity remains of high importance to protect our industry with much emphasis upon the need to inform and educate to ensure effective preventative measures are applied

UK wide ID regulations are developing which will apply to breeders of all animals and there is a requirement for all horses to be microchipped by 2020 with exception for semi wild ponies. Local Authorities now have rules rules around supporting Legislation, which must continue to recognise semi feral ponies.

Better technology and the digital stable is the way forwards and with approx 1.3 million horses in the UK, the Central Equine database (CED) will play a key role in ensuring robust identification and traceability of horses – an important consideration given the need to maintain control of POMs and reduce risk of entering the food chain. It is very clear that as owners of horses, we need to be updating the PIO for our horses and the CED upon any changes with our horses. Transparency upon the medical (inc breeding and performance) history of individual horses will soon become the norm.

‘Physical training increases fitness hence performance improves ‘ was the opening statement offered by Dr Marlin as he further explained the influences in the training into skill behavioural and physical, whilst Dr Andrew Hemmings provided a highly interesting and entertaining report upon research into the learning patterns of horses that crib or weave.

An initial report into the findings of the current BETA research was provided by CEO Clare Williams with announcement that completion should be achieved by end of May this year – definitely a publication for those wishing to understand the drivers and influencers within our industry.

It was reassuring to attend the forum and appreciate that a lot of what we all currently practice, we all (mostly) do, with the common themes of furthering best practice and welfare for the horse – for those unable to attend in 2020 then I would strongly urge you join in though accessing the National Equine Forums remote feed facility.

Report by Oonagh Meyer