Thank you for allowing the opportunity to share some of my thoughts.
I have a degree in Agriculture from the University of Guelph and worked full time on the broodmare farms for eight years as a midwife in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I am now a freelance writer, writing about agriculture and horses for ten years; I also train horses, coach riders, and breed and show Paint horses. I trail ride with my husband for recreation; we live on a farm and grow our own hay.
Although I am not directly involved in horse racing anymore, my life has been deeply affected by the sudden, short-sighted and misinformed decision to end the slots at racetracks agreements without a plan.
The transition panel is a great move but it should have been done before any cuts were made. It is too late to restore confidence in our industry. The damage is done. It reminds me of the BSE crisis in ruminants: an industry thrown into turmoil overnight and is still recovering, ten years later.
However, I like to offer solutions over complaints.
I would like to see the $50 million band-aid that the Liberals have offered to place over the bleeding artery go first to leadership. The horse racing industry was faltering when the slots at racetracks program was introduced and complacency may have been its biggest enemy with the success of the slots at racetracks program. Now the industry needs help to pick up where it left off in the late 90's, with strong united leadership to make sound business plans, offering assistance to the individual tracks to make them as viable as possible. Leaders need to be shown how to work together. New ideas need to come in from outside the horse industry to improve the product and its distribution. Technology is offering some exciting opportunities for the future that need to be evaluated and explored.
In essence, we need a 'Drummond' Report for the horse industry, and continuation, but gradual phasing out, of the slots at racetracks program. The minimum amount of time involved should be the generation interval of raising a racehorse - four years - so that those in the pipeline can ensure their survival and have a chance to make their own plans.
I don't understand the underlying workings of the competition for the gambling dollar and therefore cannot yet comment, except to say that there are only so many customers to go around, and to expand will require linking world wide.
Undoubtably this crisis will result in extensive culling of the horse herd. I hope this doesn't lead to welfare issues, horses being starved or neglected because they are not worth anything to the owners, or the owners are unable to afford them or the costs to get rid of them. If it costs more to truck a horse to auction than the horse is worth, or more to euthanize it, where will the horses end up? Probably abandoned. The slaughter shutdown in the US has already swelled the ranks of unwanted horses of all breeds and now the strain will really show. The Canadian slaughter industry needs to be checked, federal inspectors doing their jobs to make sure the rules are being followed, to be sure that there is a humane end in sight. Horse rescues cannot absorb the number of unwanted horses we will see this winter. Maybe subsidized euthanasia and disposal should be supported to avoid suffering? This is urgent.
As for people, there are many who will become desperate and despondent, having invested their entire lives and incomes in the horse industry. I saw this same scene happen in New Zealand in the late '80's when the bankrupt government pulled out of agriculture. Store shelves were empty; many despondent people committed suicide. With ingenuity their industry has come back stronger, but at a great cost.
There needs to be advertising of help lines to call, and there needs to be programs in place to help those who want or need to transition from the industry, similar to the Grow Your Farm Profits initiatives that are offered to farmers to improve their business skills and education.
I see a strong role for OMAFRA, and there needs to be a horse industry rep. put in place immediately. We are desperate for such leadership in a void left when Dr. Robert Wright retired. I believe this position could be supported through partnership with Equine Guelph, who have already offered office space and resource sharing, offers that have fallen on deaf ears. It's a no-brainer to me.