At the ongoing Asian Racing Conference 2020 in Cape Town there will be a meeting today with a special focus on India. Although on the edge and on the eve of a larger panel with the titles "Promotion of the international movement of horses" and "Important developments and current strategies in the Asian region", securing this meeting at the 38th edition was a win for the Indian horse breeding and racing community.
Ameeta Mehra, owner of Usha Stud Farms near Gurugram, is at the forefront of these efforts. Mehra, who took over the farm in the early 30's after the early death of her parents in a tragic accident in 2001, has kept the company's success going. According to the Stud Book Authority of India, Usha stud farm outperformed the country in 2013-2014 in terms of the prize money the horses collected from their farm. The horses have 27 wins in multiple races across India, hardly in the first two months of 2020 alone.
Despite these numbers, the industry has been experiencing a slow decline for almost two decades – and this urge to sell and run horses from Indian farms on the international market can be a positive solution.
On the way to recovery
For years, horse breeding and horse racing has been seen as an elite pursuit of winning profits. However, various industry-wide problems associated with no specific government department to address their concerns had adversely affected them.
The creation of a Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairy Farming in 2019 (apart from being just a division of the larger Ministry of Agriculture and Welfare of Farmers) gave the farm owners a certain sense of relief as they had their own place where they could address their problems.
Mehra notes, however, that the effects of the new tax on goods and services, which was announced two years earlier, only compounded their problems.
"As an industry, we hadn't been too proactive in dealing with problems, but when the new GST regime came into force in 2017, horse racing was dealt a heavy blow," she says.
It calculates this up to a fee of 28%, which was levied on the total income of the racing clubs. The tax system was not completely wrong, says Mehra, but was "wrongly applied" – the tax should have been levied on the commission earned on a club's earnings, she emphasizes, instead of being counted against the total revenue.
However, there is a glimmer of hope: the most recent Union budget provided for a tax break for the import of racing horses for the year 2020-21. The duty, which used to be 30%, is now zero.
"This has given the breeding industry a boost," says Mehra, distinguishing it from the racing industry. After all, imported horses are not allowed to participate in races in India.
Taking advantage of all of these developments, the idea of letting horses bred by India take part in races abroad – “especially in Korea, Macau, Singapore, Mauritius, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – could give the entire industry a financial delay.
Driving the agenda
Accompanied by Mehra to the meeting on February 20 are veterinarians, the leaders of leading Indian racing clubs, including Dr. Surfing reddy from the Hyderabad Race Club. Dr. Praveen Malik, the animal welfare officer, also confirmed his participation via video conference.
Bringing all heads together was a constant process. In early December, Mehra brought together various prominent leaders in the horse breeding and racing industry, including Dr. C. V. Niranjan, Chairman of the Veterinary Commission; Satish Iyer, Keeper and Chancellor of the Indian Stud Book; Dr. Hasneyn Mirza, a veterinarian specializing in horses, and representatives of well-known stud farms such as Poonawalla, Kunigal, Mukteshwar and Sohna. This was organized to get everyone to participate and put their weight behind their common goal, namely to find ways to run their horses abroad.
The outcome of the December meeting is a compiled dossier that outlines the best health practices of Indian stud farms. This was done on the basis of a report by the World Organization for Animal Health Guidelines for the establishment, administration and self-declaration of a free trade area for horse diseases towards the OIE,
At the same December meeting, representatives of the Ministry of Animal Husbandry also agreed to send a letter to the European Union expressing the government's interest in helping stud owners send their horses abroad.
"I was told that [the various countries] I would probably like to hear from the government side how we plan to export whole-blooded animals to the European Union. For example, [it’s required that] the horses [inhabit] certain physical zones [Equine Disease Free Zone] that are free from some diseases [like glanders]"Noted Dr. Malik.
He added that he would stand up for their willingness "to do everything possible in terms of health, surveillance and persecution".
The result of these efforts will be tested in Cape Town on Thursday evening. In the meantime, it is noteworthy that after decades of doldrums, studs, even those that used to be excessively competitive, come together to create a new future.