Jennifer Wilson, Karen Hood and Tammy Ven Dange with introduction by Martha Sear, 16 October 2014
MARTHA SEAR: Hello everybody and welcome to the National Museum of Australia and the second in our Spirited: Australia’s horse story lectures and talks in the series of three. I am Martha Sear. I am the senior curator who worked on the Spirited exhibition. It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Jennifer Wilson, my colleague and fellow curator on the team, who is going to be your guide through today’s conversation. Thanks, Jen, over to you.
JENNIFER WILSON: Welcome everyone to today’s discussion about horse health and welfare. During the development of the Spirited exhibition we came across a number of subjects that have huge histories in Australia related to horses. One of those, the history of horse health and welfare, is something that stands out throughout the exhibition but there are several key stories that I will focus on here today.
Just ahead of showing you some of those stories, we encourage everyone to join the conversation about Australia’s horse story. As part of the Spirited exhibition we have several very active online components, the Share my horse story http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/horses/share_your_horse_story and the Share your pony club http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/spirited/my_pony_club_story story. There’s lots of other information about pretty much every story in the exhibition online along with some really great photos of some of the objects in the exhibition.
In 1788 Governor Phillip first acquired seven horses for the new colony when the First Fleet stopped to resupply at the Cape of Good Hope. The first thoroughbred arrived in Australia in 1799, and many of the earliest contests involving horses were races. More generally testing the limits of horses through contests of speed, endurance and power became familiar past-times in colonial Australia. During these slow beginnings for horse history in Australia, horses did not always receive humane treatment in exchange for hard labour, entertainment, recreation and companionship.
Between 1850 and 1920 Australia became exceptionally well supplied with horses, with a ratio of about one horse to every 2.5 people. At the beginning of the period with one horse to pretty much every two people by the end. It seems as horse numbers started to increase during the mid nineteenth century, so did the occurrences of exploitation and mistreatment. In both public and private environments, varying human altitudes to horse welfare resulted in cases of wilful cruelty or simply unintentional thoughtlessness or neglect. Motivated by compassion and respect for horses, several colonial charities and individuals worked to protect and promote equine welfare.
The Spirited exhibition includes a number of stories from this long history from 1788 to the present day as a way of highlighting particular moments in and perspectives on the relationships between humans and horses. This is one of those stories. During the 1860s, George Hamilton, a settler in South Australia and inspector of mounted police, published several works urging South Australians to discard the cruel methods of horse breaking that had been transplanted to the colony. The Spirited exhibition features the illustrations from his book The Horse: Its Treatment in Australia. http://www.nma.gov.au/collections/highlights/hamilton_horse_welfare On screen are four of the 11 sketches in that work that shows the trials of a horse, as Hamilton said, ‘from the time he is taken from his native woods until he is reduced to the drudgery of a hackney car.’ In particular, Hamilton was concerned with what he saw as the inhumane practices of the coarse, drunken, idling, ignorant, brutal horse breaker. Based on newspaper reports from the time, it seems that was considerable response to Hamilton’s words and images with one reviewer questioning how any person can continue the objectionable practices after reading this book.
For many decades most Australians looked after their own horses, relying on experience, popular wisdom and remedies for the treatment of injuries and disease. By the 1880s, professional veterinary surgeons were in practice across the colonies, and in the early twentieth century equine medicine emerged as a specialisation. Veterinarians developed scientifically based understandings of equine anatomy, physiology and behaviour advocating for new treatments and management practices that augmented, adapted and sometimes replaced established traditions of horse husbandry.
The Spirited exhibition includes a number of organ and bone specimens taken from horses bodies for analysis. Before injectable treatments and condensed pace became available, a drenching bit, such as the one on screen and in the exhibition, allowed people to pour liquid medicine down the throat of a horse. It was commonly used to administer treatments for colic and intestinal parasites.
Since the early nineteenth century, Australian horse owners have been able to buy easily applied external remedies for common equine disorders such as lameness and inflammation of the hooves. Solomon’s Solution was manufactured in Melbourne from the 1890s and Reducine was developed in Sydney during the 1930s and is still in use today. http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/spirited/stories_and_objects/body_spirit/solomon_solution_poster
Equine influenza first appeared in Australia in 2007, prompting authorities to declare an immediate nationwide ban on the movement of horses to stop the virus spreading. Like many race meetings around the country, the Birdsville Cup in Queensland was left without any runners. Residents, of course, responded by organising mock races using soft toys, with Jackson here as one of the stars of the race and our exhibition. Spectators and participants were so taken with the mock race that year that it has become a continuing feature of the annual Birdsville race carnival and reminds people of the impact of the disease. http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/spirited/stories_and_objects/body_spirit/toy_horse
As the variety and investment in horse sports expanded during the twentieth century, so increased debate around the appropriate treatment of horses. These public debates have occurred across all forms of equine sport including racing, jumping, and rodeo, helping to ensure and develop high standards of care for the participating horses. This photo captures the pre-ride vet check at the Quilty endurance ride in 2013 in which competing horses undertaking a thorough vet check at each of the five legs of the event. http://www.nma.gov.au/online_features/horses/features/quilty_cup
In 2009 the Australian Racing Board implemented new rules regulating the use of whips in races. Jockeys were required to use a padded whip with flat, smooth edges and an internal shock absorbing layer. Some campaigns have gone further insisting that people have no justification for making horses suffer by putting them in danger, over controlling their natural behaviours or working them to their physical limits.
Since 2008 the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses has advocating long term care for horses bred on the race track. In their campaign in 2014 displayed cans such as this of ‘Horsielicious’ to raise awareness of the need for retirement plans to prevent horses being slaughtered for pet food, amongst other things. http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/spirited/stories_and_objects/body_spirit/horsielicious
From the mid nineteenth century, Australia’s concern for the health and welfare of horses mounted as reliance on them grew. Many Australians began calling for greater public commitment to equine welfare. Often motivated by the poor condition and overwork of carriage horses, these reformers argued for legislation to ensure horses were treated humanely. Most rely on community support and donations, a variety of organisations have been formed across Australia to respond to and educate and monitor animal welfare.
The Spirited exhibition includes stories from the RSPCA and Heavy Horse Heaven. Today I have the tremendous privilege of introducing Karen Hood and Tammy ven Dange to speak about their respective organisations. Karen Hood is president of Heavy Horse Heaven, and Tammy is the CEO of RSPCA ACT. I will introduce Karen first to speak about Heavy Horse Heaven.
KAREN HOOD: Thank you very much Jennifer and welcome everybody. Heavy Horse Heaven started in October 2011. Due to having quite a bit of a acreage there and one Clydesdale myself, I had been an absolute lover of the heavy horses for pretty much all my life. This was our first girl that came in [image shown]. I had a look one day and thought there has to be some way to be able to help a few that might have fallen on hard times. So I set off trying to find a rescue I could contact and say, ‘If you have any heavies, I am happy to help look after them,’ and I couldn’t find any. I mentioned that to a girlfriend one day and said, ‘I couldn’t find a heavy horse rescue, what’s going on?’ She said, ‘You should start one.’ I said, ‘Okay, why not?’
Here we are three years later and we have helped save 43 so far. We have 13 in care at the moment and we have built ourselves a really good support network to help us do this. These guys come in from all sorts of different situations. It could be anything from drought affection, people falling on hard times or just pure neglect. We quite often get notification from the public that there may be a horse in danger at the sales going to not such a nice place and ending up in not such a nice way. If we have room and funds we will take them in not a problem at all.
We have a really good committee on board that help us run the organisation. We also have a great team of volunteers that come out and help us do it, because it’s turned into something quite large and sadly we are needed. And to do all the work we have to do for these guys we need a bit of a hand. We are based out at Murrumbateman at the moment. We have just moved from 10 acres to 120 which has allowed us to take in some really good opportunities to help these guys through.
The heavy side of it, they have been so prolific in the creation of the agriculture for Australia. They have sort of built Australia as you can see down in the Spirited exhibition itself. We pretty much think they deserve to have a good retirement or at least not suffer in any way. That’s what we are all about. Thank you.
TAMMY VEN DANGE: Good afternoon. How are you today? A huge thank you to the National Museum of Australia for inviting us to be a part of it and thank you for inviting RSPCA to be a part of a story that we are going to share today. A lot of people may not realise that the RSPCA was started because of our need and desire has been involved in preventing cruelty to animals, and specifically horses, for a very long time. Specifically the RSPCA began in 1824.
Just two years before a gentleman named Richard Martin, an Irish parliamentarian, was able to pass the very first legislation for animal welfare that we could find on history. Unfortunately two years later nothing had been done. There wasn’t an appetite for change. There wasn’t an appetite for actually implementing this. So a man named Reverend Arthur Broome decided to get some of the prominent community members together and set up an organisation that will help implement this legislation because nobody else wanted to do it.
That’s how the RSPCA began. The number one priority they had at the time was around horses. As you can imagine back in the 1800s, horses were the main form of transport, yet unlike what you would see people do today with cars, they actually treated the horses miserably. So you had starving animals, you had animals that were being beaten. And these were their livelihood. We had day jobs. The very first thing that RSPCA was trying to do was to improve the lives of working horses. It might not be a surprise to you that lot of charities like the RSPCA and even Heavy Horse Heaven struggled with finances so that Reverend Broom ended up in debtors’ prison at one time trying to support the cause all by himself. Nothing has changed. We are still broke.
But initially the RSPCA was focused around the inspectorate identifying issues and prosecuting those that were intentionally neglectful or abusive and to also find ways of educating the population about ways to treat their horses better. That was the essential part of why the organisation began.
What people may not realise is how important the RSPCA was to the innovation of various mechanisms to make it safer for the working horses. I will give you a couple of examples. One of the first things was that he published thousands of copies of a book called The Horse Book. The intention was to educate the population about how do you actually look after your horse properly. He also advocated the use of a quick release harness to protect the horses if they were to fall. Before if they were to fall, whatever they were pulling behind them would just land right on top of them. This quick release harness would allow them to disconnect them from the cart, bus or anything else before it fell on top of them.
They were also able to advocate brakes on every horse bus. You can imagine these massive buses, even the same size of what you might see today for a bus, being pulled behind horses, no brakes, thousands of kilos behind a horse. If they have to suddenly stop, the bus would just run them over. They finally were able to get legislation in place in England specifically to put brakes on every horse bus.
One of the members also created a spring-loading device that would help the horse start the cart. As you can imagine, the first couple of steps were the hardest. They were able to create a device that made it a bit easier to help the horse to move the cart to begin with. And also going to back to World War II, they were absolutely critical in the care and maintenance of a lot of horses throughout Europe during that war by sending out veterinarian treatment in trunks - various vaccines and stuff to various countries, not just their own allies - horse blankets and then specifically in England they provided shelter for horses and other animals during the war where they were in danger of the bombing areas. It shows you how far the reach has been to protect horses not just from a prosecution and education point of view but also the innovation of tools.
Here in Australia we have been around for a long time too. In 1871 we actually started RSPCA in Victoria specifically for the same reason to look after horses. As Jen pointed out, there was a real concern about the way people treated horses. They were neglected, they were abused around yet these were the livelihoods of many of these people. But they didn’t treat them like live animals; instead they just treated them like a thing.
The RSPCA was set up specifically as a completely separate entity from the version in the UK to help with this. And by the way the first shelter was not established until 50 years later. They started the organisation in Victoria primarily around prosecutions or the inspectorate side of it as well as education. So 50 years later the first shelter was established, and it was really kind of like a rest home for horses on their final journey. As you can imagine when you are receiving lots of animals, you need a place to put them and that’s how the shelters began.
Specifically here in the ACT, we were formed in 1955 as a separate entity. Although we work under a common banner for policies and procedures we are actually a separate entity, as all the other states are. We are in the same location as we were back then in 1955. We are still in Weston right off the Cotter Road. Nothing has changed. No, we haven’t moved to Symonston yet, although people think we should have already done that. We are still in Weston.
Although our history is not quite aligned with horses, we have seen a lot of horses in our time. The biggest one was in 1996 when we actually took over the horses that were at David’s junior riding school that was on Mugga Way. They went into liquidation and there was over 20 horses at that time that were neglected and starving. We took them on. Fortunately most of them were re home homed, although a couple of them ended up just spending their last few years with us until they died of old age. But that was the biggest time where we had a lot of horses within our care.
Gratefully, for the most part, other organisations like Heavy Horse Heaven have been able to help out people when they get into a position where they can’t look after their animals any more so they have another place to take them. This means we haven’t seen nearly as many inspectorate cases of horses in the last few years, although we did have one last year and we did have to put that horse down because they weren’t taking care of that animal and it was in a lot of pain.
Unfortunately it still occurs. Our job is not done yet. But fortunately it does seem like the education and the other rescue groups out there that can help people out if they can’t afford to look after the horses, because they are extremely expensive to look after, have allowed us to decrease the number of prosecutions and inspectors around horses. As you can tell, from the 1800s, the RSPCA has been heavily involved in the welfare of horses and we actually started just because of them.
JENNIFER WILSON: Thank you to Karen and Tammy for introducing us to their organisations. As I said, they are both part of the Spirited exhibition. We are very pleased to have both contributions. I am going to open up for some discussion and question time. I am going to ask a few questions I have prepared first, and then we will pass the microphone around. I am sure you all have some questions about both the organisations and perhaps horse health and welfare in general, perhaps something specific to some of the horses in your own care or horses you might know about.
I am going to ask Karen first. Can you explain some of the situations that Heavy Horse Heaven have rescued animals from?
KAREN HOOD: Certainly. I will give two examples perhaps. One example was we were alerted to a beautiful mare and her very young foal - the foal was only three months old - at Camden sales. The owner at the time was quite a well known abuser of animals sadly, and she was preparing to separate the mother and the foal at that stage. The foal was too young to be weaned at the time. They were both in pretty poor condition. So we said we would take them on. We did.
This is one of those really sad cases where we left the two of them together for a while until the baby was old enough to wean. Once we went through that process and took her away, we started working with Mum. Mum had been very badly abused by this person. We were in touch with her previous owner and had evidence that this horse was actually quite a loving and very well handled horse. However, after she had spent time with this person and been through what she had been through, she became very aggressive and very defensive to the point where she injured two of our team members twice quite badly. We consulted with professionals and we got other trainers in to try to work with her. But sadly the world was a little too stressful for poor Piper so we had to have her humanely euthanased.
The baby went on to be a wonderful little girl and she is now with a fantastic home up near Sydney way and she is going through groundwork training at the moment. That was the good side of the bad thing. That was a case where all we could do for this poor horse was to give her nutrition and get her up to a point that she was physically well. However, mentally she wasn’t very good at all, and the kindness and most sensible thing to do in that case was to let her go.
On another good story, a lady took in an older heavy shire cross gelding. She had bought him from the doggers or the knackery people. He was a lovely old boy. He was pretty much emaciated, probably a body score of about one or one and a half. He wasn’t very good at all but he still had quite a lot of strength with him. Anyway, she took him home and she decided she would try and fix him up, but he was a little bit too much of a handful for her. So she surrendered him to us and we took him on. He was with us for a good six months, and we found him the most fantastic home with a lady in Murrumbateman. He is now babysitting foals and things now. He is 33. We had him out at the vets open day last weekend and I can’t even believe how good he looks. He just looks phenomenal. He looks 15 maybe if he’s lucky. To see what he came in as this poor, downtrodden, neglected boy up into this so happy horse and to see the look in their faces, it’s just this click and they are wonderful. That’s good. We have still got 13 more to try and help at the moment. Let’s hope they are all happy stories.
JENNIFER WILSON: The happy ones are much more memorable.
KAREN HOOD: Absolutely, yes.
JENNIFER WILSON: Karen, how do you find out about the horses that need your help at Heavy Horse Heaven?
KAREN HOOD: Social media plays a really big part in notification for us. I have to say this is where you see Facebook working in a really good way. We have 8,500 followers now, and when people become aware of situations they will alert us because they have all our contact details. The other thing we are doing is getting out and about to different events like the Murrumbateman Field Day is coming up and we attend the heavy horse events. There is a lot of word of mouth getting out there which is really good.
At a couple of the events we have attended, we have actually been able to help two families to re home their horses because they were in areas where Queensland itch was really prevalent and these poor horses couldn’t cope with the itch and the bacteria they were getting - but we don’t get that down here. Instead of trying to find the finances and the time to manage this horrible itch, they have surrendered them to us and we have them quite happy now.
JENNIFER WILSON: That’s fantastic. The RSPCA has an established record of effective inspection techniques. I was just wondering, Tammy, if you could tell us as the RSPCA looks after animals of all shapes and sizes, what are the particular assessment measures that would be made in horse cases? How would the assessment go?
TAMMY VEN DANGE: Horses are similar to any of the other animals. We have five freedoms that we believe in, five freedoms that we believe every animal should have: freedom from pain; freedom from the elements, so having shelter; freedom from being hungry or thirsty; freedom of being able to act naturally; and freedom from fear and distress - five basic freedoms and any animal, regardless of what it might be, we would use the same criteria for that. It’s something that is also embedded in the Animal Welfare Act here in the ACT. So we have the legislation behind us to help support us when we feel like an animal has not had those freedoms.
The complaints we receive are from the public. Right now we are a little bit short on inspectors but at least we have the funding to go ahead and get some more because we freed up funding in other areas of the organisation just recently. You might have seen some media recently we somehow had a 40 per cent increase in calls in animal cruelty calls and complaints in the last year. I don’t want to call it a trend until I have seen it two years in a row, but it is certainly depressing to see that number increase by so much. I am hoping it is just because people are becoming more aware of it and they are actually taking action; and maybe those numbers have always been there but they have been more complacent and waited for someone else to take care of that call. But certainly we have seen a huge increase.
We have quite a few prosecutions going through right now. We had a bit of a backlog for a long time. We have a couple more coming through this week, including that horse case from last year should be coming through later in the month. That is just the first round. We are hoping we will get through the backlog as well so we can see this through.
One of the challenges we have is that, if we are prosecuting an animal where the animal hasn’t been surrendered, we have to hold on to them until the courts decide whether or not they are right or we are right. Therefore we actually will not take a prosecution all the way to court if we don’t think we will win because it is obviously very expensive for us to do so. If we lose, we could also be liable for costs as well. If we have a case that we believe we could win if the owner will not surrender the animal, we have what is called a live exhibit. We are working now with the courts to say ‘You guys have to move this through.’ We can’t just have animals sitting there for a year waiting for the court date. It’s not fair to them. We are just taking them out of a very difficult situation and are just putting them into something as holding cell - that’s not fair. They are working with us now to try to get the court cases through a lot faster.
JENNIFER WILSON: That was going to be my next question. What kind of legislative changes has RSPCA ACT in particular implemented; and what are you working on at the moment?
TAMMY VEN DANGE: We have a couple of things. I would really like to see the Animal Welfare Act being updated again. I know it’s been updated not too long ago. I have been in this job since February so I probably have a different view, but some of the legislation in other states are a lot stronger. For example, I want to be able to protect my inspectors. You would be surprised on how violent some of these people can be to our inspectors when we try to take the animals from them, and the legislation right now doesn’t have anything that would give them a charge for preventing us from doing our job.
The other thing I would like to do is to be able to reclaim cost. We had a thing that went through recently and the guy pled guilty. The courts get $7,500. We have just spent $4,000 on this animal holding on to him, re homing him, medical, we had to amputate a leg - all that cost. The courts get $7,500. We prosecuted him. He pled guilty. We don’t get anything. I would like for legislative changes that would allow us to do those type of things that are actually visible in other places. Those are some of the main ones.
Certainly there is already precedent in Queensland and New South Wales. If I can work with our ministers - they are actually very good at working with us - hopefully we can make some similar changes that will allow you us to do more.
JENNIFER WILSON: That’s great. For both of you, your organisations work primarily to rehouse animals. Can you talk us through the processes that your organisations take in trying to find those new animal homes, probably Karen first?
KAREN HOOD: When we get a rescue in, they get the full basic medical with their teeth, feet and worming. Then we go on to the mental assessment and suitability assessment. Each horse is an individual so we don’t have a time frame to turn them over into a new home. We work with them for a good couple of months as a minimum to decide what sort of home they would suit rather than let’s turn them over and get the next one in.
We also freeze brand our horses with our own brand on it. It is not a registered brand but it’s a visual brand so that, if anybody ever sees our brand on a horse that is in a bad way or in a place it shouldn’t be, we will walk in there and just take it back.
When we do re home it’s under very strict conditions. There is definitely a no breed policy and they cannot on sell them. If something happens with them, and things do happen sometimes with their families, they come back to us. We will always remain their legal owners, I guess, in that way. We check up on them every eight to 12 weeks. We make sure everything is being done, and so far we have got 100 per cent strike rate, which is really lovely.
TAMMY VEN DANGE: We see about 8000 animals a year just in the ACT - 5000 or so are domesticated animals and the other 3000 are wildlife. We are the only place where you can surrender a stray animal other than a dog. We are the secondary, although a lot of people think we are the primary, source for stray dogs. We will take in those if we have room. With the pound being primary because that’s an animal management issue not an animal welfare issue.
We are the only place where you can get ongoing vet treatment for a wildlife animal and we are the only full time animal welfare licensed inspectors in the ACT, the others ones being the AFP. So as you can imagine that is a huge burden to carry for the whole community when there is no other place for you to do these things. But we have, because we see so many animals, a pretty robust process for the number of animals we see, given that we see 5000 animals you might make a mistake here or there.
For the 5000 animals that come through the door, every one of them gets an initial medical assessment on whether or not it needs ongoing medical treatment. It might have some level of treatment throughout the process. We want to make sure these animals are going to go to a home and not come back to us so they first have to pass a behavioural assessment. After that we will go ahead and de sex them, if they need to be de sexed, and then we will put them up through our adoption process after that.
Each animal, specifically the dogs, have a colour rating on them. If they are good with children, if they are good with other animals, if you need a high fence, if they are good with other dogs - we will be very specific in terms of what the needs are for that particular animal. And dogs being more of a high caring animal we will spend a little bit more time with them, but we do the same thing with cats. The only time we will put down an animal is if there is a behavioural issue that we don’t feel like we can fix or if there is a medical issue. There are some things we have to do from a legislation point of view such as if a feral cat comes in we will have to put it down, but otherwise we will hold on to all animals for as long as we need to.
A good example occurred yesterday. I know this is a horse conversation but yesterday we sent off two dogs to New South Wales RSPCA, which is the first time we have ever done that, because they have been here for six months and I can’t find them a home. We have tried our best. We have had them on the TV and Facebook and everything else several times and we can’t seem to find them a home because they need more space than we can offer them here. So we have been working with some of the other states to see if we can transfer some animals out that might be in higher demand over there because they have bigger properties, and then perhaps bring animals that they can’t look after to us and maybe we can find them a home here in the ACT.
JENNIFER WILSON: That’s great. Both the RSPCA and Heavy Horse Heaven rely on community support and donations. I wondered if you could tell everyone how you are both funded and how people might be able to help.
TAMMY VEN DANGE: Only 15 per cent of all of our funding is government. Sometimes even in our conversations with them we forget we only get 15 per cent of our funding through them. About 40 per cent is through our commercial operations. The adoption fees we charge for the animals don’t even come close to covering our costs, but if we try to charge the actual cost you probably wouldn’t take the animals on. We will do whatever we can to get them a home. The rest of it, approximately 45 per cent of all of our funding comes through the various fundraising activities we do and donations from people from the community.
JENNIFER WILSON: And Karen?
KAREN HOOD: Ours at the moment are all based on our fundraising and we have been relying on generous donations from the public and our supporters. We do attend events. We have merchandise and things like that, and being a tax deductible charity helps a bit in that way.
JENNIFER WILSON: I just wondered on a more personal note: I guess for both of you is there a particular story either horse or otherwise that inspires you to keep working for the improvement of animal welfare?
TAMMY VEN DANGE: There is a couple I would love to tell you about but I can’t because they are under prosecutions right now. I will probably be sending something out in the media on Monday so I will tell you about it at a high level. It is always inspector cases for me. You see these animals come in. If we don’t shed a tear, then there is something wrong with you. We had a puppy come in very recently that was extremely skinny. It came in with another dog that was very skinny. It was seized by our inspectors.
For some reason very recently it just started vomiting blood and we didn’t know why. So a couple of days after we seized the animal we took some X rays. It turned out the poor pup was so hungry he ate a bunch of fishing hooks, bait and lures. When we took the X rays you could see all the hooks in his belly. You think how hungry do you have to be to smell something that kind of smells like fish and you are going to eat that? Clearly it’s not food but this puppy was starving. Now he has had two surgeries because the first time we thought we had everything and then we realised we had missed a couple of hooks. So we had to go back in there and try again. We can’t get everything out but we are hoping that if we got the hooks out, the other bits will eventually go out with the food.
This puppy is beautiful, the sweetest little thing. When I saw him yesterday he was just recovering from surgery but he would tell you something has ever happened and he’s happy now he’s got food. You see stories like that and you realise what they are going through, you think how could someone be so cruel? If they couldn’t afford to take care of their animal, it is quite common for us to take food out to them if it’s for a short time. Say somebody has been in hospital or they have been unable to work for a few weeks so they haven’t had any money to pay for the food, we will come and help them out. Or if you really can’t do it for the long term, we will find them a new home. But for them to just do nothing, that’s what gets to me. That gets to me more than anything from the negligence point of view. Then with the abuse cases, obviously if they have done something on purpose I don’t have a lot of mercy for those guys. That’s what keeps me going.
KAREN HOOD: Not so long ago we had a surrender given to us to go and pick up, and whilst on the property picking that one up we came across two other horses that were quite bad. Unfortunately, the other organisation was in the business of rescuing horses as well and on a little more investigation we found out these horses had actually been with this person for quite some time. One horse had had a broken shoulder for four years apparently. When I queried the person as to why she hadn’t been euthanased because she was in a great deal of pain - this poor girl was total skin and bone, she was so dehydrated her skin kind of stuck to all her muscles; it was a really bad thing - she said, ‘We were just waiting to wean the foal.’ I thought why didn’t we euthanase the mum and bring the foal up? It’s not right. I said, ‘What’s going to happen with her?’ She said, ‘I will get her shot.’ I said, ‘How about I come and pick her up and her little friend over there - that doesn’t have broken bones but is just an emaciated state with quite a bad nasal infection happening - I will come and pick them up tomorrow,’ and she agreed which was really nice. So we went back the next day and picked these two up.
We rang our vet and said, ‘We have two very extreme cases coming in. Can we meet up with you now, no questions asked?’ Of course she was there straight away, which was really good. We euthanased the little girl to give her some relief. And the second horse we had to actually operate on three times. He had a very bad sinus infection that had been there for the vet was guessing around 12 months. You know if you have a sinus infection yourself, it’s very uncomfortable. We had to drill through his skull into his nasal cavity and flush and get this all out. We did that a couple of times and finally got everything clean.
And on investigation she found that it all started from an infected tooth. So this infected tooth had eaten through the jawbone into the nasal cavity and left a hole. This is where food was getting in. It was going rotten so this poor little guy was in so much pain. To her credit she said, ‘We will give it a go. He’s got a little bit of life left in him.’ So we used some dental cement and plugged the hole in there. We were hoping that it would fix it but sadly it didn’t and a few days later he had to be euthanased as well.
There seems to be quite a lot of rescue groups out there and there is no standard set - there is no reporting agency for rescues to go and do this. I would really like for Heavy Horse Heaven to be part of maybe setting a standard for this sort of thing, to educate people to have their horses teeth checked. Don’t just have the farrier come and stick a file in their mouth and it’s all done. There are so many things that go on in the back that you cannot see with these horses. That’s a lot of the problems we see. These two stories, whilst they are a little bit different, all wraps up into what keeps me going the next day: these deserve a bit more than what they have been dished out.
JENNIFER WILSON: That’s fantastic. I would like to now open it up to anyone out there who has any questions they might like to ask Tammy or Karen.
QUESTION: Having recently been to Melbourne (inaudible) are there places these days where the horses still work apart from that kind of work?
KAREN HOOD: You mean farm work and things like that?
KAREN HOOD: I don’t think there are any big production places, but they are making a real comeback at the moment with hobby farms. I have quite a good friend who has the most beautiful Clydesdale. She has bought a property that needs a lot of fixing up with lots of bits and pieces around. He is broken to snigging, which is wonderful, so she is moving logs and cleaning things with him. It’s really nice to see that come back.
Then we see the Yass guys from Wooback Yass who set a world record in the most heavy horses ploughing a field at the same time back in May this year. That has really opened a lot of people’s eyes again and jump-started hearts back into the working horse, which is really good.
We get three or four emails a week saying ‘Have you got a heavy horse for me because I would really like to start ploughing my fields with one,’ or ‘I can offer a really good home to a heavy horse.’ The awareness has perked up lately, which is good, because the Clydesdales are on the rare breed list which is a real shame. Hopefully they might be making a comeback.
QUESTION: Tammy, with the horses that you get in – you probably get a lot of them in - how many horses does the RSPCA get in at Christmas time?
TAMMY VEN DANGE: Actually we don’t get many horses any more because there is not as much of a need for us to do so when you have great groups like Heavy Horse Heaven that specialise in horses. We haven’t had a horse in the paddock since I have been here in February, which is good.
I know a lot of people think we get a lot of puppies and stuff returned back as gifts at Christmastime. That’s an absolute wives tale. It’s not true. We don’t actually have a huge number of animals come in at that time that were gifts and come back. Actually there was a study done in the US to see if that was true there. It proves the same thing. Most people now are pretty educated. If you are going to spend a lot of money on an animal, you are probably going to want to make sure that they really want that gift. So we don’t actually get that many animals much less horses at Christmas time.
QUESTION: What kinds of horses do you get in?
KAREN HOOD: We get all sorts, everything from minis right up to the big Clydesdales and everything in between. We specialise mainly in the big heavy horses and the crosses of those. But if there is a horse that is really stuck, we will take in anything. If we don’t have room for them, we will help people find them a new home.
QUESTION: With the rehabilitation of the horses, have you ever had any sort of nice endings where some of the horses took a liking to each other and you have had foals born as a result or are they all mostly older horses?
KAREN HOOD: We have had a couple of foals born in care but they have come in with Mums that have been in utero, the mares have come in pregnant. We don’t support breeding for no cause at the moment. Sadly, the sale pens for the pet food industry and other industries are chocker block full of I wonder if this horse would look nice with this horse, no, I don’t like the foal, let’s get rid of it. The racing industry both in standardbreds and thoroughbreds actually keep those pens pretty full, which is sad, but there is also a really big backyard breeders amount out there. We don’t promote breeding unless it’s for a really good cause but we don’t breed ourselves, no.
QUESTION: You were saying before when you have to go in to rescue, are you covered under legislation to seize horses when they have been?
KAREN HOOD: No, we are not. If we know of a horse that is in a really bad way that needs that sort of intervention, we will call on the RSPCA or DPI to go in and do that. We don’t have anything like that. People actually have to surrender them to us.
TAMMY VEN DANGE: I might point out that we do work with a lot of rescue groups not just for horses but dogs and other things. It’s always our best interest to try to get an animal out of the shelter as soon as possible. If we seize an animal and there is a way to put them into a rescue group, we would do that very quickly, especially when they are equipped to do it and they are used to working with those types of breeds and those types of animals.
QUESTION: You both touched on the fact that you offer volunteering opportunities, I was just wondering whether in fact there are open opportunities at the moment; and, if that is the case, how you go about approaching you about a volunteering opportunity? I do live in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, so it’s only a hop, skip and a jump. We do get stuff online from RSPCA because we have an RSPCA doggy so we are embedded into the database there. I have had four RSPCA doggies and they have all been marvellous dogs, including the two current ones. I highly commend that you look to the RSPCA if you are in the market for a doggy. I am digressing. If you could just talk about the volunteering opportunities and how you go about making contact for that.
KAREN HOOD: We have actually got a big volunteer drive on at the moment. Just on the corner we have a couple of little pamphlets. It has our contact details on it. By all means, please pick one up. I would be really grateful. We need volunteers for grooming, feeding, paddock cleaning, fencing, attending stalls, helping promote the information and also interaction with the horses. When the horses come in, they see me and a couple of other team members that come out and they see the vet and the farrier. It’s really mentally good for our horses to have as much interaction so that the ones that have been through hard times especially will realise that somebody is going to walk up to them and they are going to be nice. They are not going to hit them. They are not going to yell at them. The more interaction we can have with good, confident, kind people, the better we would like it. Thank you.
TAMMY VEN DANGE: We are redoing our volunteer program right now. Traditionally the volunteer roles we have available are people working with the various animals. It could be cleaning kennels. We have those that all they do is socialise with cats and dogs and give them a cuddle. We have those that will help in wildlife. We have a smaller number in the veterinarian services but we also have some that are helping us with administration tasks such as stuffing envelopes, putting names in the database and things like that. We would like to get some additional help in various tasks like gardening and some of those ongoing maintenance type things. But then we also get the one off volunteers that help us because they have a skill or a background we can really use. I have had people with IT backgrounds or marketing backgrounds that have just offered their time. Then when there is an opportunity where we can use them, we will take them.
The best way to get involved in our program is first of all you need a working with vulnerable people’s card. You can go down to Canberra Connect, or if you are in New South Wales there is something that is very similar, and then just apply to be a volunteer. I noticed our website sometimes says that we don’t have any roles available but it doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead and apply and just say what you are interesting in. There is an application on there.
Then our volunteer coordinator will schedule an interview and make sure you are suited for what you are thinking you want to get involved in. Then we will usually have you paired up with one of the staff members on a certain day. The best volunteers for those types of jobs are those that could be regular, someone that we can roster in to say every other Saturday to go and spend time walking dogs or they are going to do laundry or they are going to do whatever it takes. The best volunteers we have are the ones we know will be here on a regular basis. Just check out our website.
QUESTION: My question is to you, Karen, and probably secondary to you, Tammy. When you identify somebody to take on a horse, how do you go about assessing them beyond the fact they can feed and water the horse?
KAREN HOOD: We do an extensive background check. We ask for veterinary references as well as another character reference so maybe somebody that has seen the family with horses before. We will call those references and have a really good chat with the vet. If the adoptees are in the area that we can cover, we will certainly go out and visit and meet them first and see where our horses are going to. If they are in an area where we have one of our long term supporters and volunteers with us, they quite often will go out and do a site check as well.
QUESTION: You mention one instance where the horse went to somebody and the horse was too much for them to handle, do you assess them for that ability to handle and train?
KAREN HOOD: Yes. In that case the lady had actually bought the horse through the knackery herself and she was a lovely lady, very slight, getting on in years and he was just a little bit too strong to her. But to her credit she realised that what she wanted to do she wasn’t able to do, and she had an option to be able to ring us to be able to help us. That was good.
TAMMY VEN DANGE: Probably something very similar. We have different sized dogs, and a lot of our volunteers are retired. Some of them would not be able to handle the bigger dogs in just a walk because not all of them are trained well on a leash. It kind of depends on the animal. We do have paid staff on board, and our senior behavioural trainers will identify which animals their volunteer can work with. Our dog trainers know most of our dog walkers who have been there for ages. They will already know which volunteer can work with a small dog or a large dog.
We have a beautiful Rottweiler cross right now whose name is Roxie. She first gets excited when she first goes out the door because she doesn’t get to get out but a couple of times a day, and because she is quite a large dog so we have two volunteers walk her. And then once she’s had a little ‘OK I’m out’, she settles down and she is quite easy to walk. But just because she’s so excited at the first bit, we have two people walk her.
QUESTION: The lady at the front asked a question about horses being used in agriculture at the moment. The people from Wooback have access to some really wonderful historic horse drawn implements. At the Murrumbateman Field day coming up there is going to be some of those implements being powered by horses if you are interested.
QUESTION: I was just wondering the opinion of both of you on the performance horse industry and the appropriateness of the horse sports - more to the RSPCA opinion - but also there are a lot of heavy horses in jumping performance horse sports. I was wondering what your opinions were.
TAMMY VEN DANGE: I didn’t think we would get through the day without getting that question. The RSPCA, all of our policies are clearly documented on our website. You can see for each type whether it’s rodeo, racing or anything else you will see we have a policy for every one of them. The big thing for us is always going to be the welfare of the animal. Are they doing something that is natural to them anyway? What is their living conditions like? How are they treated as they are performing whatever they are doing?
If the animal is doing something that is naturally what they would do, then usually we don’t have a problem as long as they are not being endangered by doing something above and beyond what their normal capabilities would be. I think most of the issues that RSPCA has talked about recently have been not the ones that are performing at the moment but those that don’t make the cut. Oftentimes it’s those animals that don’t actually pass the test for racing, for jumping or for something else that turn into slaughterhouse dog food. That’s where a lot of the controversy is around. It’s not necessarily the ones that are treated like rock stars because they are, but those that aren’t making those cuts and what the industry is choosing to do with those.
If you want to be very specific please go to our website. We have everything fully documented on our views from greyhound racing to circuses and everything else. It’s about protecting the animals’ welfare. If the animal is doing something naturally and it’s being treated really well and if they are past their prime, as long as they are treated well even then, we don’t usually have an issue. But it’s all the other things that go with it that usually cause the headaches.
QUESTION: When they are discarded.
TAMMY VEN DANGE: Yes.
KAARIN ANSTEY: I have to agree with that. I don’t know if you are into the horse scene yourself but you will notice there are a lot of heavy horses and heavy crosses that are now making their way into different events rather than just pulling carts, ploughs and things like that.
QUESTION: I have a three year old myself.
KAREN HOOD: Very much along the same lines - as long as they are being looked after, they are not being pushed too hard and they are being monitored, why not give them a go? The big ones are very clever. They can do lots of stuff. I actually went out and barrel raced a Clydesdale at Bungendore earlier this year. It was a little exhibition but it was really good fun and he did really well. I thought I have to get him to canter at the end when we are going back through the barrels – no. We were moving like a steam train but did he break that trot? No. They are great fun and they are very versatile.
JENNIFER WILSON: That’s fantastic. We might wrap it up there. Thank you all so much for coming. If you could join me in thanking Karen and Tammy for sharing. [applause]
Disclaimer and copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy. Some older pages on the Museum website contain images and terms now considered outdated and inappropriate. They are a reflection of the time when the material was created and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Museum.
© National Museum of Australia 2007–24. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.
Date published: 01 January 2018