Last week I was pleased to release a report on the future of horse racing in Ontario.
I asked three former ministers – Elmer Buchanan, John Snobelen and John Wilkinson – to give me a considered, objective review of options for transitioning the horse racing industry to a sustainable future.
Their report provides a model for a robust industry building on Ontario’s long history of producing extraordinary equine athletes. I believe 2013 will be the beginning of a new and, in many ways, improved chapter in the history of racing.
Of the many issues addressed by the panel, the concern over the welfare of racehorses has been particularly troubling. The panel had warned that if the industry collapsed, the consequences for thousands of horses could be dire.
I believe the best way to avoid this tragedy is to ensure that the industry remains viable in Ontario. To this end, the government stands ready to work with the industry to build a long-term plan for sustainability.
Protecting the horse herd is going to require more than simply adopting a new racing model. Horse owners, trainers, breeders and veterinarians must do their part as well. To keep the large quantity of Ontario racehorses active and to improve the racing product we must ensure that races have full fields of competitive horses.
The panel report has also spotlighted an area of grave concern for everyone in the equine industry: the limited opportunities for racehorses, once their racing days come to an end. While there are many fine people working hard to adopt racehorses into horse sport or the companion animal market, the unvarnished truth is that the number of retired racehorses has always overwhelmed these efforts. The horse racing industry needs to do a better job of creating post-racing plans for horses.
As we work together over the next few weeks I will be asking the industry to focus on how we might best address the post-racing options for Ontario horses. A part of that focus must address the best practices in other jurisdictions that have promoted the use of racehorses for recreation, sport and companionship.
An important factor in ensuring that racehorses have an opportunity for a full and productive life is protecting their health while they are competing. I will ask the Ontario Racing Commission and the panel for advice on how best to do this.
I believe the Ontario racehorse industry can have a bright future. This includes a brighter future for the racehorses that give the sport its grace and beauty.