The continuation of our series on “helping ourselves”.

saetracThe next big development from a country perspective took place more recently. For many years, South Africans have travelled abroad, spending a fortune on the importation of horses, one of the principal beneficiaries of this trade being Australia. South African owners regularly splash out tens of millions of dollars annually on horses from our mates in Oz, while the right to trade in South African horses is not reciprocated. Australia instituted a ban on horses from South Africa many years ago, and that stands today regrettably, though the odd horse that has made its way to that country (via several other countries) or has competed on neutral ground, has proven that South African horses occasionally hold their own against the best Australia is able to produce. Only last year, South Africa produced a Grade One winner in that part of the world in the form of Perfect Promise, a filly who, in spite of being very good, was not top of her class here.

Weary of this embargo and after decades of effort, we decided at Summerhill that we should do something about it, together with our Finance Minister, Peter Miller, Mick Goss led a small delegation to the offices of his one-time schoolmate, Alec Erwin, the honourable Minister for Trade and Industry. Alec was always a capable cricketer during his schooldays, but from the perspective of the horse industry, he had yet to prove himself a minister of the same mettle. We should add as this juncture, that the limitation against our horses entering Australia is not, as far as we know, induced by horsemen, and certainly not by the Thoroughbred community. On the contrary, old pal John Messara and his merry band at Aushorse have always been more than supportive. He (John) incidentally “made” the giants Danehill and Redoute’s Choice, and bred Champion sires Zabeel, Flying Spur and Danzero. Shades of Tesio?

In the event, he listened sympathetically to our case, but in the end, he reminded us that no country had been more pro-active in assisting South Africa in the development of its international trading strategies than Australia, and in the Minister’s own words, he wasn’t about to upset that relationship for the “sake of a few nags”. What he did propose was that we form ourselves into a Trade Council, and that he would assist us not only with the funding of the council’s activities, but also with the inward and outward funding of trade missions. Thus the South African Equine Trade Council was born, with Mick Goss as its first appointed Chairman, and Heather Morkel, his PA at the time, its first CEO.

At the end of the first year, we exported 22 horses, the following year 79, the following 271, and the next year more than 400. At that stage, having undertaken to run the show for no longer than six months, Mick and Heather asked to be released from their offices after 4 years, in favour of the late Colin Dunn, and recommended the appointment of a full-time CEO to undertake the task: And so Peter Gibson, now CEO of Racing South Africa, was recruited on Summerhill’s recommendation. No sooner had the new team taken over than trade was suspended with the outbreak of African Horse Sickness in the Western Cape.

That’s history now, of course, and, after considerable effort, we’re up and running with our exports again. While it’s not quite business as usual, the movement of horses in and out of the country has once again become a possibility.

This might not have happened at all were it not for Summerhill’s participation at the International Breeders Conference in Paris in 1996 when the subject of AHS and our ability to export was on the agenda. We’d attended the same conference as South Africa’s reps in Los Angeles in 1986, and for ten years, because of the country’s politics, the matter had been relegated to the backburner by those determined not to do business with us. It was about to happen again in 1996 in Paris, when Summerhill’s delegate insisted that the matter be fully debated. The international vets present, notably those from England, Ireland, Switzerland, France and the United States, undertook to resolve the matter once the principal business of the meeting was done, and a gathering was convened in the hotel bedroom of David Powell, a Welshman who heads up the Gluck Institute in Kentucky. Quite apart from his passionate love, against all the Welsh odds, of rugby, David is one of the world’s most respected veterinarians, and he and people like Ken Strickland of Ireland got to work with our man on establishing a way forward. Over two bottles of Blackbush Whiskey, a document now famously known at EU headquarters in Brussels as the Blackbush Accord, was struck, and that laid the foundation for the protocol finally negotiated by Professor Alan Guthrie of the Veterinary Institute at Onderspoort near Pretoria.

We’ve lived in interesting times, and while its not quite a case of “those were the days my friend, we though they’d never end”, they weren’t all that bad in the end. Let’s face it, if we hadn’t believed these things were possible, they wouldn’t have happened at all. Remarkable what a touch of faith and a bit of self-help can achieve.

Posted by Mick Goss

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