HRI chief answers questions over horse death numbers; BLOODSTOCK WORLD.
REGULATING a country's broodmare and foal population is "not the answer" to a reported increase in the number of unwanted thoroughbreds being humanely destroyed, according to Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland.
Kavanagh was contributing to a broadcast on Radio 4's Today programme that was billed as 'Ireland's turf tragedy - thousands of racehorses bred in the boom times being sent for slaughter as the money runs out'.
A three-minute segment that proved more responsible than the way it was previewed claimed that the number of registered foals in Ireland had increased by 40 per cent between 2000 and 2007. The report did not add, however, that it has since fallen by 39 per cent in three years.
Kavanagh said: "If somebody owns a mare and they want to breed a horse, it is very, very difficult to stop them. At the time [of considerable overproduction and declining sales figures] we looked at regulation and the reality is the market is regulating it now. But it's regulating it in a very, very severe and harsh manner."
The programme spoke to trainer Paul Nolan about the difficulties facing his industry. Nolan said there was a sudden surge of owners, particularly from the building trade, during Ireland's boom times but economic difficulties meant "it was like the tap was suddenly turned off".
Another trainer, Tipperary-based Tom Hogan, said the recession had seen his numbers drop to 25 horses from 80 four years ago. Of the unwanted ones whose owners could no longer afford to pay annual bills of around pounds 15,000, he said: "Some are still here in the field - some have to go for humane destruction."
The programme described the abattoir business as "one of the few growth industries" in Ireland and said the number of abattoirs had expanded from one in 2008 to five now in the republic. Those abattoirs had overseen the euthanisation of 4,600 thoroughbreds last year, mainly for meat exported for human consumption to France and Belgium.
In response, Kavanagh said: "It's a bit of a farming view, I suppose, that if a horse has outlived its purpose, then it should be euthanised. I think everyone would prefer that to a welfare issue where horses are abandoned."
However, Conor Dowling, of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the abandonment of thoroughbreds was "part of a larger equine problem".
He added: "Unfortunately, all sectors of the equine industry were responsible and there were just too many produced."