The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) met with racing industry bodies on Friday to discuss a plan to respond to the closure of the Animal Health Trust (AHT). The Trustees of the AHT confirmed today that the charity has been unable to secure the significant funds it needs to have a long-term viable future and will begin a winding-up process.
The Trust carries out equine disease surveillance and specialist veterinary research for the thoroughbred horse racing industry. The surveillance programme also covers the whole horse population of the United Kingdom, including equestrian sports and leisure horses. It fulfils an important role in maintaining high standards of equine welfare in British horseracing, playing a vital role in monitoring the outbreak of equine flu that caused a shutdown of the racing industry for six days last year.
The BHA, Thoroughbred Breeders Association (TBA) and Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) met this morning with the Racing Foundation and the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB). It was agreed the BHA would lead the racing industry’s efforts to maintain the surveillance and testing capability.
The racing industry has already had constructive discussions about with other parts of the equine sector served by the Animal Health Trust. The BHA will aim to work with a range of bodies including the British Horse Council, the British Horse Society and the British Equestrian Federation.
Racing provides annual funding of around £700,000 to the AHT, of which the HBLB provides some £400,000. In addition, the current HBLB research investment is around £2.8m, with research projects at various stages covering virology, bacteriology and other disciplines.
An additional £700,000 was allocated by the HBLB in 2020 after financial difficulties at the AHT became apparent. This was a conditional grant which has not yet been paid but is available if a solution for providing the essential disease control and veterinary research services can be agreed. Further funding for projects and the operation of the AHT comes from the ROA and the TBA.
A BHA spokesperson said: “The Animal Health Trust has played an important role in maintaining the high standards of equine health and welfare in the racing industry and the equine sector. Its staff, led by Director Richard Newton, responded superbly when we faced an equine flu outbreak last year. We recognise their world-leading expertise in epidemiology and veterinary research and do not want to see this lost to the British equine sector.
“We believe that if the horse sector maintains the strong collaborative approach it has adopted in combatting disease and engaging government over issues such as Brexit, it should be possible to maintain an effective surveillance programme and the specialist veterinary research capability.”