EQUINE welfare charity, World Horse Welfare, has responded to the BBCV Panorama programme on the treatment of retired racehorses.

Roly Owers, World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, said Panorama had shone a spotlight on the consequences of individuals involved in the racing industry not exercising their duty of care, and the standards of practice of euthanising retired racehorses.

“These are issues of great concern to very many people in the horse world and very many more outside of it. The reaction shows how strongly the public feels about it. The programme also raises far bigger issues than what appear to be shocking practices of one abattoir - from breeding programmes to training regimes, to lack of regard for horse welfare during transport, to the integrity of our passport system and, therefore, the traceability of racehorses. The industry, from top to bottom, needs to sit up and take note.

“We at World Horse Welfare support horses taking part in sport and we welcome the progress that has been made in racing recently, especially the publication of British racing’s Horse Welfare Board strategy and Defra’s Action Plan on Animal Welfare. However, the programme is a timely reminder of the significant gap that exists between good policy framing and effective implementation. The industry must reflect, urgently, on whether it is doing enough quickly enough. It must step up on aftercare and should not shy away from issues like euthanasia and slaughter. As upsetting as it is, if done humanely, this can be the least worst option to prevent the suffering of horses who cannot be rehomed or would otherwise suffer in retirement – but we need more confidence that abattoirs are following welfare laws. More broadly, the industry must look at this issue in the context of the commercial incentives which seem to be driving some of these deeply disturbing outcomes and, in this context, consider the broader issues of horse welfare in transport, traceability and the regulation and availability of abattoirs. The welfare strategy needs to be joined up and come to life through coherent and practicable policies to help ensure a consistent approach which the whole sport can buy into.

“The programme reminds us that it is the duty of everyone involved, be it an owner, trainer or racing industry professional to take proper, considered responsibility for the horses with which they are entrusted.

"For horse racing to have a sustainable future it must have zero tolerance of unacceptable behaviour and low standards of welfare. The horse human partnership is a wonderful thing, and a force for good in so many areas but there is no place in our society for its abuse."

Meanwhile the staff and ponies at World Horse Welfare’s four Rescue and Rehoming Centres in Aberdeenshire, Lancashire, Norfolk and Somerset have welcomed visitors back when they reopened recently after more than a year closed to the public.

A new easy-to-use ticket booking system has been launched to manage numbers of people visiting and to keep both staff and visitors safe. Tickets can be booked on the individual farm pages at https://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/visit-us

Lisa Gardiner, Centre Promotion Officer at Belwade Farm in Aberdeenshire, said: “Everyone at Belwade Farm is getting excited to welcome back familiar and new faces when we reopen. Whilst we have been closed the yard have been busy helping a large number of rescues, rehabilitating them ready to go to new homes.”

  Zoe Clifford from Penny Farm near Blackpool said: “Come and see what we have been doing and find out about the horses and ponies that are here – each has a different story to tell. We said that there would be celebrations here when we finally reopened, and after having to reschedule a number of times we really are going to mark the occasion!”