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Meet The Equine Welfare Vets Safeguarding Retired Racehorses

By Julieanne Horsman 

Chasing galloping horses around expansive paddocks, analysing manure samples, giving plenty of withers scratches and copping the odd muddy snot shower are all in a day’s work for Dr Rose Bensley and Dr Carly Garling. The dedicated equine welfare veterinarians have been appointed by Racing NSW specifically to monitor retired racehorses in their new homes. Both have extensive experience as race day on-course vets and jumped at the chance to permanently join Team Thoroughbred NSW, Racing NSW’s equine welfare division.

“I really enjoy all aspects of racing and already had established relationships within the industry, so it was a natural progression for me,” Dr Bensley said.

“Having grown up riding off the track Thoroughbreds it was a passion of mine I had to follow,” Dr Garling added.

Dr Bensley and Dr Garling spend their week travelling around the state, checking in on registered NSW Thoroughbreds which have left the racing industry. Each day Racing Australia updates its database of retired racehorses which includes the horse’s new career, location and the person responsible for its care. From that, the veterinarians select horses they inspect to ensure they are in good condition and where they are meant to be.

“If I’m doing a welfare check I will phone in advance to organise a time so they feel more comfortable with the process,” Dr Bensley said. The majority of horses I’ve seen are very well cared for and people are doing a good job.”

Dr Rose Bensley & Dr Carly Garling.

Every inspection includes a microchip scan, basic examination of the horse and an assessment of its surroundings. Under the minimum standards set by Racing NSW, Thoroughbreds must have access to adequate water and nutrition, room to exercise, shelter from the elements, protection from diseases and veterinary care if required. The vet will talk to the new owner about their plans for the horse and address any queries or concerns either party has. The vets don’t want Thoroughbred owners to think of them as the Police of the industry who need to be feared, rather a resource that can be called upon for advice and support.

“If there is a horse which I have concerns for, I firstly address it directly with the owner,” Dr Bensley said. “I find out if there have been any health issues or other factors which have contributed to the decline of the horse. It is fair to give them an opportunity to try and rectify the situation. For example if I find a skinny horse I would give the owner a nutrition plan and schedule another visit in a month. If there is still a problem and no effort is being made to correct it, that’s when local stewards might have to get involved.”

For serious and repeat offenders, Racing NSW has introduced The Excluded List. It prohibits Thoroughbreds that have been domiciled in NSW for the majority of their lives from being transferred, gifted or sold to a person that has not complied with required equine welfare standards or the Rules of Racing. If a person is placed on the Racing NSW Excluded List, they will not be able to receive or have a Thoroughbred in their care.

Help is at hand for anyone struggling with their Thoroughbred though. Team Thoroughbred NSW provides a safety net for retired NSW Thoroughbreds and those which did not make the track. If they don’t have a quality home to go to, they can be given to Team Thoroughbred NSW to be cared for, retrained and rehomed. There is no fee to surrender a horse and there are currently more than 450 in Team Thoroughbred NSW’s care.

Racing NSW has purchased three farms within the state for the purpose of equine welfare:

  • Bandanora is a 2600-acre mixed farming property at Capertee which boasts state of the art equestrian facilities including an indoor arena.
  • Bart’s Farm (formerly Princes Farm) is a 137-acre property on the picturesque Nepean River on the north-western outskirts of Sydney. It was designed and built by the legendary Bart Cummings.
  • The Grange is an 80-acre farm at Oxley Island on the Mid North Coast of NSW which was previously used as a boutique Thoroughbred stud farm.

Team Thoroughbred NSW also cares for horses in partnership with other organisations:

  • There are more than 80 Thoroughbreds at St Heliers Correctional Centre in Muswellbrook. They form part of the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Program where minimum-security inmates learn to train horses in other sporting disciplines as part of their rehabilitation for return to society.
  • Former jockey Cassie Schmidt retrains a small number of Thoroughbreds at her property, Bud Regal Park at Redbank NSW.
  • Australian representative polo player Alec White and his father Anto also retrain a small number of Thoroughbreds at their property near Scone.

Racing industry participants directly contribute to the aftercare of NSW racehorses through the Equine Welfare Fund. 1% of all prizemoney allocated to NSW Thoroughbred racing is withheld and directed into the fund which is managed by a board of trustees.

“There’s no shame in asking for help from Team Thoroughbred NSW,” Dr Bensley said. “It’s far better to be proactive and request assistance before the situation gets out of control. The best piece of advice I can give is to work with your local vets rather than turning to Google as a source of information. Basic veterinary care goes a long way and will save time and money.”

When Dr Bensley and Dr Garling aren’t on the road visiting retired racehorses, they can be found either tending to horses at Racing NSW’s equine welfare farms, acting as the on-course vets at the races or assisting the stewards with integrity work. This involves everything from stable inspections and medicine store checks to out-of-competition testing.

“The best part of my job is seeing these horses in a new home where they are loved and appreciated for a completely different reason to being a racehorse,” Dr Garling said.  “There is so much value in a Thoroughbred. They’re beautiful, versatile horses that come with exceptional training.”

Find out more at www.teamthoroughbred.com.au 

Follow Team Thoroughbred NSW on social media

Facebook – Team Thoroughbred NSW

Instagram - @teamthoroughbrednsw

Twitter - @teamtbnsw

This story originally appeared in the July issue of Racing NSW Magazine.

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