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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Tasmanian horse community thrown lifeline after ferry bans livestock

ABOVE: Horse transport to the mainland will resume from today under an interim arrangement.

THE Tasmanian horse community has been given a one-month reprieve after being cut off from the mainland following a decision by the operators of the only sea link to the island state, the Spirit of Tasmania, to ban livestock transport.

The ban followed the ferry operator TT-Line being found guilty on October 27 of breaching 29 animal welfare laws after 16 polo ponies died during a voyage in 2018.

However, Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff announced yesterday that carriage of livestock, including horses, would resume effective immediately for Devonport departures and from today for Geelong departures.

“This is an interim arrangement in place for at least a month, while we complete further work on designing and implementing an ongoing process to ensure that this vital service continues,” Mr Rockcliff said.

“We have agreed to implement an interim arrangement, using additional resources from Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania, to support TT-Line to develop and implement procedures in the assessment of the suitability of horse transport vehicles.”

The decision by TT-Line to ban livestock on the Spirit of Tasmania threw the horse community into chaos and led to some horses missing racing in Melbourne on Cup Day.

The chairman of Equestrian Tasmania, Helmut Rechberger, welcomed the decision to restart livestock transport, saying the impact of the ban continuing indefinitely would have been felt across all aspects of the equine sector.

“From those seeking mainland veterinary services, riders travelling to the mainland to train and compete, those breeding, selling and purchasing horses from the mainland and to the businesses which support the industry such as the transport services and horses currently on the mainland unable to return,” he said.

“This is a great outcome for the Equestrian community in Tasmania and Equestrian Tasmania thanks The Spirit of Tasmania TT-Line for their quick action in resolving this issue to ensure that there is no or minimal disruption to the movement of horses across Bass Strait.”

Equestrian Tasmania was among the many organisations and businesses that urged TT-Line and government ministers to seek a solution.

"This decision is causing a lot of concern and anguish to our members with many due to travel in the coming weeks,” Mr Rechberger said previously.

“Our sport relies on the Spirit of Tasmania, it is part of our National Highway, we cannot become isolated.”

Equestrian Tasmania members travel throughout the year to events like the recent National lnterschool Championships in New South Wales, where 16 riders and 18 horses attended.

Speaking before the interim measure was announced, Tania Hay, a leading coach and competitor in show and dressage, described the situation as a mess.

“Forget the show horse nationals in NSW in December, we can't get there, and as you know we have competitors wanting to come over to Victoria for the Victorian dressage championships and we have members who have bought horses stuck in Victoria that they can’t get home.”

Elesha Spillane, of the Tasmanian Horse Transport, said she had major concerns for her own business as well as the horse industry in Tasmania.

“Our company moves a large number of horses each and every week across Bass Strait travelling on the Spirit of Tasmania,” she said.

“These horses range from racehorses (both Thoroughbred and Standardbred), Thoroughbred broodmares and foals, other breeds of broodmares and foals, stallions, competition, pleasure and equestrian horses.

“We have moved horses interstate for veterinary treatment when that treatment cannot be performed in Tasmania. Recently we transported horses and their young riders to Sydney to compete in the National Interschools Championships. We also regularly assist families to move horses and other livestock in to Tasmania when they choose to relocate here and call Tasmania home.”

Ms Spillane said she her company understood the seriousness of the polo pony incident and the related legal ramifications for TT-Line but believes there are ways to manage this.

“Our vehicles are purpose built for transporting horses long distances in all climates and we have procedures involved in the transportation of animals both on land and on sea to ensure the animals remain healthy and fit for travel,” she said.

“By using these vehicles and following these procedures we have never had an incident similar to what happened with the polo ponies happen to us, nor have any other professional horse transporters who use the TT-Line service.

“I would have thought rather than a blanket ban on all livestock TT-Line could have restricted livestock travel to be with one of the professional companies already moving livestock with no incidents, therefore still allowing an avenue for everyone to access travel.”

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