The “Animal Welfare During Transport Regulation” was first drafted by the European Commission in November 2004, primarily with the desire to safeguard livestock being moved for slaughter. There have been countless horror stories involving these poor beasts, who are often subjected to shockingly cramped conditions and treated with little dignity. Racehorses, however, are another matter entirely, but the bill will have a knock-on effect unless an exemption clause is brought in.
Animal transporters (not racehorse transporters) undertaking journeys of over eight hours will be forced to fit satellite navigation systems into newly built vehicles from next year, while all vehicles must have the equipment from 2009. There is also a stipulation for air conditioning. Drivers and staff will need to achieve competency certificates. The total cost of improvements, upgrades and other compliance is thought to total up to £20,000 / €29,000 per vehicle. For both racehorse transport companies and private individuals, this will come as a serious financial blow. It is thought that the governments of Ireland and France will be lenient when it comes to enforcing these regulations. This is no surprise in the case of the former, given the long-standing desire to protect its racing industry for economic, social and political reasons. Britain, however, is another matter, and there are plenty who feel that the overzealous manner with which the detail of EU regulations are adhered to is to the country's detriment.
Kevin Needham, who runs BBA Shipping And Transport Ltd, feels that the needless astringency of the new rules will result in only one reaction. "Operators will ignore them," he said. "Bring a prosecution will be so difficult; there is much the authorities will need to prove. This is nothing but a source of irritation and annoyance." "Every horse box we build nowadays is different to the one before. The whole process is geared towards the operator. Whatever facility you want can be added, and the standard of boxes nowadays is a lot better than in the past. We are not driving lorries with cart springs around anymore, now we have modern chassis with air suspension."
According to Needham and other executives in the same sector, it behoves transporters to move racing and breeding stock with the greatest possible care already. "It matters to everyone who moves thoroughbreds that they get to the races in the best possible condition. Optimum performance depends on it, and our customers rightly will not stand for anything less." Merrick Francis of the Racehorse Transporters’ Association is optimistic that a differentiation will be made between racehorses and other livestock that will overt the situation. "It is still all up for consultation and interpretation by DEFRA [the department for environment, food and rural affairs] but there is reason for optimism that a practical solution can be found," he said.
The pivotal point of this situation is that the EU has listed the changes as 'regulations' rather than 'directives'. This allows the British government far less flexibility, though, according to the Racehorse Trainers’ Federation chief executive Rupert Arnold, they are doing what they can. "DEFRA is trying to be as flexible and helpful as possible. I think that we can find a way through this, but there are areas such as with competency certificates and the regulations applying to journey times and distances that need clarification," he said. One thorny issue of the new regulations is that of competency certificates, which will be required for both drivers and their assistants. Many transporters feel strongly that it is ridiculous to ask a box driver of 40 years experience to pass a test conducted by someone else with far less knowledge of the trade.
Furthermore, there are new controls preventing horses being transported below 0C and above 30C, but trainers who set off for the races early in the morning could not help but offend this stipulation. Most punitive of all is the rule that pertains to the angle of slope of a horse box's ramp which would immediately outlaw a huge number of existing lorries. Cathy McGlynn, the European consultant for the British Horseracing Board, is attempting to assuage these and other frustrations for the racing industry. And the good news is that she is making purposeful headway. "We have been working hard at this for four years, consulting with Rupert Arnold and Merrick Francis and the civil servants. Our dealings with DEFRA have been constructive," she said. "The chances are that domestic racehorse transporters will not be too hard hit, but those firms operating on the continent will have to comply. Details are still to be sorted out." McGlynn concurs with those who feel that the high standards of welfare common throughout the racing industry need no improving upon. Like Arnold, she is particularly frustrated at the rules pertaining to permissible temperature. "There is just no scientific basis for this regulation. If there were, it would be a different matter, but there is no proof of any welfare issue at temperatures outside those which they state." "In some parts of Europe, for example, it is below zero for half of the year. Introducing regulation that cannot be adhered to is futile," she said.
The fact is that this issue took horns from the disgraceful state in which horses for slaughter have been treated in countries such as Hungary and Poland. The International League For The Protection Of Horses and the RSPCA are entirely justified to have taken action over this issue, and the legislation is a step forward in this sphere. But penalising racehorse transporters seems invidious. Needham is particularly irritated by the intransigency of the EU to differentiate between the two situations. "It is a case of one size being made to fit all. The regulations are made from the meat-horse perspective. Nobody is going to jeopardise a Sadler's Wells filly with a foal at foot, for example," he said.
Furthermore, the directive is also looking for all loading ramps to have a 20 degree loading angle and for all boxes to have a minimum headroom of 75cm (roughly 30 inches) above the withers. There is no way that small operators can take on the significant extra expenditure to modify existing boxes, and most will choose to run the gauntlet. Racehorse transportation has taken a quantum leap forward in tandem with the increasing internationalisation of the sport. Gone are the days in which European horses were not in a fit state to compete at events such as the Breeders' Cup. And the awareness of optimum international travel, coupled with the great strides made in other equine sports, have had a knock-on effect in raising domestic standards. "Arthur Stephenson used to send his horses to Cheltenham and back (500 mile round trip) in a day, and horses can still travel long distances, get off the box and run well," Needham says. "Traffic is a bigger problem nowadays, however. Our boxes going to Ireland can get stuck on the A14 for hours. Forward planning can overt this to a degree, such as traveling at off-peak times where it is practical. There are always unforseen delays though. Finding a solution to awkward problems is a daily problem for transporters."
In addition to the new regulation, all horseboxes sold after May 1st 2006 are now fitted with Digital Tacographs, to record driver’s hours and from October 1st 2006 all horse boxes have to be sold with a “Euro 4” specification engine. “The idea behind the new specification engine is to reduce engine emissions even further” says George Smith of George Smith Horseboxes. “However, they’ve been cleaned up since 1990, the new specification is simply to reduce both Nitrous Oxide and soot this is impossible unless you use either an AD Blue System or exhaust gas recirculation”. The cost – approximately £3,000 (€5,000). Naturally, vehicle manufacturers are advising us to buy new boxes before the new regulations come into force!