Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Australian Equine Endurance - Summising Horse Welfare

Kholonial Endurance Training

By Jo Hamilton-Branigan BVSc (Endurance Vet/Rider)

In Australia the sport of endurance riding has always been under the microscope (and very accountable) as far as horse welfare issues have been concerned. In the beginning welfare authorities (RSPCA) were not convinced that this sort of riding/event could be achieved without compromising the horse. In order for the sport to be accepted and continue into the 21st century an incredibly comprehensive horse welfare system has been devised and it has continued to evolve in parallel with the nature of the sport. Australia has long been a world leader in this regard.

The Australian Endurance Riders Association (AERA) works in close association with a panel of highly experienced veterinarians (AERA Veterinary Panel – which consists of an experienced endurance veterinarian from each State). An event cannot take place without a veterinary team in control with an Accredited Endurance Veterinarian at the helm (as Head Veterinarian). Strict monitoring by veterinarians (of a number of parameters, including heart rate, respiration, temperature, demeanor, metabolic factors – particularly relating to the gastrointestinal tract and hydration, as well as gait evaluation) creates a safe environment for the horses. The Veterinary Team is in control of the ride and can disqualify a horse/rider combination at any time in the event. The Head Veterinarian oversees all decisions made by the veterinary team.

Each event generally consists of a series of phases (“legs” or “loops”). The ride base may stay stationary or it may move (“travelling" check points). A typical phase will range from about 10km to 45km – depending on the length and nature of the event. Longer events have multiple legs/phases. Generally longer phases at the start of the event and shorter as the event proceeds. At longer events horses may be checked seven or eight times during the course of an event. The horse is checked by the veterinary team between phases and judged as fit to continue or eliminated on veterinary grounds. There is a mandatory rest period between phases after the veterinary check. A horse can be eliminated at any time, even on track during the event if the track veterinarian deems it necessary. Consider also that it is not uncommon for horses to be asked to “represent” and be checked twice at the one check. These days it is usual for there to be a “compulsory represent” (double check) at a designated check.

There is a comprehensive National Logbook system now in place. Every endurance horse must be identified & registered with its State Association/AERA. They are then issued with a Logbook which must be used at endurance events. This official Logbook contains a myriad of information pertaining to the health and welfare of each horse at each event. This is a work in progress and details the ongoing successes and failures of each horse at each event – it is an historical record which can be referred to by connections, veterinarians and officials over time.


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