Article, General Session

WOAH updates equine standards to reduce obstacles to the movement of competition horses

equine standards_movement_of_horses

Developed alongside Members and horse industry experts, three equine standards are updated to fight against disease threats and respond to the practical needs of international horse competitions. 

Sport and competition horses are seasoned international travellers, hopping from one competition to another across the globe. However, in transit, many can become stuck at the border. International standards are meant to protect the health of the sport horses themselves, as well as a country’s equine population from transmitting diseases across borders. Border controls can prevent sport horses from getting to their competitions on time. Veterinarians and customs officials struggle to find an approach that is fit for purpose, wanting to respect standards that reduce disease risk, and to acknowledge the practical needs of international horse sports.  

Seeing an opportunity to support Members, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) partnered with the horse industry, to find new solutions and ensure the ensure the safety and safe movement of racing and sport horses. WOAH has worked with the International Horse Sports Confederation (IHSC) since 2017 in the framework of a public-private partnership (PPP). Both WOAH and IHSC share clear goals to improve the health and welfare of horses. Namely, to mitigate the risk of the global spread of equine infectious diseases and minimise movement restrictions on competition horses. The collaboration has led to many significant outcomes, with many of the activities leading to the update of three animal health standards, including on equine influenza, contagious equine metritis (CEM), and equine piroplasmosis, presented for adoption at  WOAH’s 90th General Session.  

WOAH’s international standards are science-based, and the horse industry agreed to contribute with resources to improve the overall quality and accuracy of standards related to horses. This included funding scientific research on horse diseases of concern to international trade. For example, in this study funded by the IHSC-WOAH partnership, a WOAH Reference Laboratory conducted an assessment on equine influenza vaccination protocols for horses before international travel. The horse sector has many vaccination schemes for this virus, and this assessment sought to harmonise current equine influenza schemes based on scientific evidence. This ensures that horses who are being transported are both protected, and that they avoid unjustified waiting periods at their destination. During this assessment, the spirit of collaboration even reached the local level. Private equine veterinarians collected and sent the samples necessary for research and worked with a public research laboratory. Based upon the results of the study, the vaccination protocol to move horses internationally was updated in the standard for Equine Influenza.

The private horse industry around the globe also benefited from this partnership, as WOAH provided its expertise as the international authority on animal health to co-develop tools with IHSC to fit the practical needs of horse sports. Bringing together animal disease experts and horse sport experts, IHSC and WOAH developed two tools to facilitate the international movements of competition horses based on the concepts of zoning and compartmentalisation. The first, the High Health, High Performance (HHP) framework, harmonises importation requirements and simplifies certification process for the temporary movements of horses. The second are guidelines to support Members in the establishment of Equine Disease-Free Zones (EDFZ). This is a risk-based approach which Members can implement when planning an international horse sport competition. By establishing an EDFZ, disease-risks in the zone can be mitigated in advance, and horses may safely enter and exit the zone keeping their health status intact. This lowers the burden of international horse travel for both customs officials and the veterinarian workforce. 

The PPP has furthermore addressed the temporary movement of horses at the regional level. A series of joint WOAH-IHSC meetings were held from 2017-2019, involving stakeholders such as veterinary authorities, custom authorities, representatives of the veterinary private sector, and the horse industry. These experts were able to discuss roadblocks to competition horse entry and exit at the border, and create action plans to overcome challenges specific to their regions and national contexts. These activities have led the update of additional standards, including CEM and Equine piroplasmosis. 

However, the benefits of this PPP did not stop there. These workshops also served to build networks across private and public functions at the regional level, leading to further collaborations to help solve the future regional challenges. In 2020, an outbreak of African horse sickness (AHS) was reported for the first time in the South-East Asia, including in Thailand who notified the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS). Responding quickly, WOAH and IHSC provided targeted support by developing dedicated communication materials and producing a series of webinars. Together the PPP built and strengthened the capacity of veterinarians and local horse industry trying to control and eradicate the disease. Furthermore, during the outbreak WOAH and IHSC worked together to enhance the region’s laboratory capabilities by promoting and funding proficiency tests, which ensured that different laboratories were performing to standard and that the personnel and equipment could properly process and analyse disease samples. Since the outbreak, and due in part to the successful collaboration between the horse industry, the public veterinary health sector, and Thailand, they have recovered their AHS free official status since March 2022. 

Public-private partnership between WOAH and IHSC has been rich with positive outcomes for all parties, with positive cascading impacts for veterinary authorities, Members and the private equine sector at national level. When different sectors join forces with the common goal of improving animal health globally, the results are indisputable. WOAH relies on these partnerships, knowing that our activities cannot operate and evolve without the continuous exchange of information and resources. Using science, WOAH and its partners were able to update international standards, to ensure the safe and healthy travel of competition horses, and ensure that border controls are improved, efficient and able to apply science-based approaches. This model gives hope for future partnerships, allowing WOAH to strengthen ties with the private sector stakeholders on other pertinent animal health and welfare challenges. Because animal health should not be only a concern for only one sector. Only together can we ensure a healthier future for all.