President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and President Jacob Zuma
President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and President Jacob Zuma

President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan receives President Jacob Zuma

(Photo : Emirates 24/7)

“Call it conspiracy if you like…”

In a bid to free up the travel restrictions on South African-bred horses, several members of our local racing community accompanied President Jacob Zuma and his advisors on a mission to the United Arab Emirates this past week. It’s a remarkable irony that throughout the Empire wars, South Africa was a welcome supplier of more than half a million horses to the colonial cause. These animals were a vital part of the British conquest of faraway lands, and none of them were fortunate enough to return to their homeland. Whilst African Horse Sickness, the reason behind the present ban on the movement of our horses internationally, was as prevalent in those days (and more so because of the lack of scientific prevention), as it is today, none of our equine exports of that era ever transmitted the disease to the countries they went to.

The reason was simple. The horses were “quarantined” on the ships they were transported on, and if they were carrying the disease, by the time they disembarked, they were either over it, or had perished en route. South Africa has gone to extraordinary lengths to safeguard by scientific means and by use of vector proof quarantines, to treble, nay quadruple, the measures for the prevention of the transmission of the disease. Yet the world seems unmoved by these efforts. It is difficult to concede that the only reason behind this, is a fear on the part of the recipient countries that they might be contaminated by the movement of our horses. Call it conspiracy if you like, but there is a strong feeling among South African horsemen these days, that we’ve become victims of our own success.

South African horses have performed so well wherever they’ve competed, not only our racehorses, whose successes are well documented, but also in the realms of endurance, polo, show jumping etc. Our endurance horses have for several decades now, ranked among the very top echelons of their species in the world, and frustrating the export of South African horses is certainly a means of keeping the competition out of the way.

Because of this country’s long standing ties with the UAE, and especially Dubai, and the success of our horses in that jurisdiction, President Zuma made a special effort to address this particular matter at round table meetings with high ranking officials of the various emirates, including the President himself. It’s a matter of pride to know that our own customer and friend, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, was a party to those talks, and South Africans are pinning their hopes on his influence in pioneering the re-entry of our horses to their markets. The problem is, he’s been the success story of racing in the Middle East with his South African runners, and as we’ve said already, the likes of Igugu, and Bold Silvano might not be that welcome in what is already a highly competitive environment.