Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Forum: Groups in Tune With Equine Welfare - Full Article

By Tom LaMarra
Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Representatives of various equine breeds and disciplines found out June 16 they have a lot in common when it comes to the welfare and safety of horses.

The "Welfare of the Horse," called the most inclusive program of its kind, was the sole topic for this year's American Horse Council National Issues Forum in Washington, D.C. It offered participants a chance to learn what others are doing as the welfare of horses—or any animal for that matter—comes under closer public scrutiny.

The forum covered everything from horse racing to the carriage horse industry which, in Charleston, S.C., at least, is highly regulated. And the horses, according to Tommy Doyle, are well maintained.

"We're at the forefront of animal welfare," said Doyle, president of the Carriage Operators of North America. "We're out there 365 days a year."

Doyle is a second generation carriage operator whose family has about 40 horses and 90 employees in Charleston, where carriage rides per year number about 250,000. The city has an equine welfare policy that requires regular veterinarian checks and use of microchips, Doyle said.

Horses can't work more than eight hours per day, and their temperatures are taken after every tour. If it's hotter than 98 degrees, the carriage rides are suspended. The horses are turned out every four months.

"The system we have in place is 100% effective," Doyle said.

Doyle indicated that caring for horses is second nature in his family. Still, public perception and potential attacks by animal-rights activists call for a plan and documentation.

Doyle used the breakdowns of Barbaro and Eight Belles as examples of what can happen in the public arena. He said those two incidents were no more indicative of the Thoroughbred industry than the US Airways flight landing in the Hudson River was indicative of the airline industry.

Laura Hayes of the American Endurance Ride Conference said endurance horses must meet certain heart-rate parameters, undergo complete vet exams and soundness checks, and can't compete if it is determined they are lame. The discipline even has a drug-testing program with a zero-tolerance policy, she said.

Equine fatalities are reported voluntarily, but of 40 cases, only one horse owner chose not to participate. All fatalities are investigated, and the results made public, Hayes said.

"The AERC believes in transparency," she said.


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