Breeding decline under the microscope at ITBF congress in Cape Town
Dr Des Leadon among those to express concerns about the fall in numbers
Sharp declines in the breeding of thoroughbreds over the past nine years worldwide represent red flags regarding the sustainability of racing and should not be ignored, attendees at the International Thoroughbred Breeders’ Federation (ITBF) congress were told on Monday in Cape Town, South Africa.
Dr Des Leadon, ITBF veterinary chair and Irish Equine Centre clinical consultant, presented a number of statistics outlining the decreases, including a drop of more than 30 per cent in foal production in the United States, the global leader in the production of thoroughbreds.
“I think America are telling us a story about the industry,” Leadon said, adding that “we must be much more proactive” in promoting the activities of racing and breeding, which yield tremendous positive impacts to the regions in which they are located.
As reported recently in Racing Post, global thoroughbred breeding declined by about 25 per cent in three key categories - number of mares bred, foals produced and active covering stallions - from 2007 through 2015, according to the most recent and complete data provided by the International Stud Book Committee, Weatherbys and the US Jockey Club.
In the US, the number of active stallions dropped by 50 per cent during that same period and the number of mares bred fell by about 40 per cent.
“There are very clear lessons to be learned on the need to be focused on sustainability,” declared Leadon, who elaborated after the public ITBF session that he is fearful the trends are not just attributable to the global recession of 2008 and will continue.
Thoroughbred industry participants must, as one strategy of dealing with the current realities, utilise data to educate governments and other organisations as to how economically important the business is in many parts of the world and thus negotiate better incentives.
Leadon pointed out the economic benefits of horses are huge; the six million or more horses of all breeds in Europe make a €100 billion economic impact annually in the region, a number comparable to the impact of horses in the US, and provide 400,000 full-time jobs, he said.
Leadon also stressed that the thoroughbred business must focus on finding specific ways of enumerating its contributions to society at large. He cited the Hong Kong Jockey Club as particularly effective at such communication through actions such as publishing in detail its tax and charity payments.
Additionally, the breeding and racing sectors of the business must begin to speak with one voice on meaningful issues.
“By working together, we can get real traction,” Leadon said.
Breeders and their organisations have not been represented with some regulatory decision making authorities, he noted. For example, shipping standards reached by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and the Fédération Équestre International were designed for horses in competition, not breeding animals.
Yet breeders have achieved some milestones in recent years, such as the ITBF being granted observer status with the IFHA, and thus could gain a larger voice in future policy discussions, he said.
Following Leadon’s presentation, Dr Iris Bergmann, a researcher at the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences, discussed a growing public concern about animal welfare issues and how that might affect the sustainability of racing.
Drawing a parallel with how perceptions of human slavery changed over time, Bergmann said in regard to horse welfare in racing: “We may find one day that some priorities are unacceptable that we find totally normal now.”