Cambridge trainer Tony Pike is adamant that training tracks need to remain open throughout the Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown on animal welfare grounds.
The respected horseman, who is also the President of the New Zealand Trainers’ Association, usually has around 80 horses in work and is keen to see tracks remain open to keep horses ticking over, albeit on a reduced scale. “I have been working really closely with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and also have a couple of vets on board as well, just from an animal welfare point of view,” Pike said. “We are waiting for clarification as to whether we can carry on training, which will hopefully come through tonight (Tuesday).”
Like many stables, Pike has already implemented strict staff protocols to minimise human interaction. “We have got pretty strict protocols in place,” he said. “We have split our staff into teams of two and they’re working three days on and three days off.
“We still need people in the stable as horses have got to stay ticking over. “There are distancing requirements, with riders down one end and ground staff the other. “We hope to keep the training tracks open on some sort of scale to get some exercise into the horses. “From a health and animal welfare point of view it is pretty hard having a fit racehorse standing in the box 24 hours a day, without any form of significant exercise.”
Asked if horses going on a walking machine would suffice, Pike is effusive in his answer. “No, that’s not enough,” he said. “If you put a fit racehorse on a walker for an hour, it is only going to become too fresh and hard to handle. It is not good for the horses at all either. “There have been a lot of horses that have been picked up today or that are being picked up tomorrow and we will probably be down to 40 horses.
“Nationally, trying to have 1500 horses out spelling on agistment farms is pretty much logistically impossible. “We’ve got 16 acres here but it is not a lot of land and we are keen to keep the horses ticking over that need full work, so they are ready to go when racing does start up again in two or three months. “There is not enough room to spell every horse.
“It is definitely an animal welfare case as it is logistically impossible to house them all at spelling farms. “The horses that are left in the stables will need some form of exercise in the next month and we are prepared to work in with MPI and adhere to strict protocols to ensure that we can keep things ticking over for the safety of everyone, horses and humans.”