BRIGHTER FUTURE: Melissa Bell from Standardbred Association of Queensland with 12-year-old former harness racing Standardbred, Boots.
BRIGHTER FUTURE: Melissa Bell from Standardbred Association of Queensland with 12-year-old former harness racing Standardbred, Boots. Rob Williams

Champion for retired race horses working for a bright future

A CHAMPION for retired race horses is working closely with the State Government to create a brighter future for the animals when their time on the track is up, after shocking footage pushed the industry's dark underbelly into public view.

Walloon disability worker Melissa Bell has been the horse placement officer for the Standardbred Association of Queensland for 12 years, working with owners to find new homes for race horses when their careers are over.

In October, the association announced its program could no longer accept horses without the funds and manpower to carry on. It will continue to monitor previously rehomed horses.

Mrs Bell said the horrific vision part of the ABC's report last month wasn't a shock. She has spent the past decade pushing for Racing Queensland and the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission to "clean their act up".

She has appealed to RQ and QRIC for funding to support and expand the program but it fell on deaf ears.

The group was powered by the hard work of volunteers; Mrs Bell committed 40 hours a week to the program.

"When I started back 12 years ago, they were rehoming three to five horses a year," she said.

"My first year, I did 80. This year we did 130. We've been pushing for the racing industry to give us some assistance for the past 10 years. We're advocating for the horses. We've always believed it should be the responsibility of the industry. Once they've finished racing. you shouldn't just discard them and think it doesn't matter now."

After the group's announcement, a rehoming forum was scheduled for November 15 but was pushed forward to October 27 after the ABC's report.

Mrs Bell met with Racing Minister Stirling Hinchliffe and senior officials from RQ and QRIC. It was then the idea was floated of 1 per cent of all prize money going towards an extensive rehoming program, similar to Victoria.

"So that would bring in $1.3 million," she said. "It's really early days but it does look like they've finally realised we've got to do something.

"The way we run our program would be ideal for them."

She will attend the next meeting on Friday and believed the scandal would push the industry to make change just as it had done with the greyhound live baiting in 2016.

Mrs Bell was stunned when she visited Greyhound Adoption Program facilities in Churchable.

The program received funding of almost $1 million and was staffed by full time personnel.

She said the QRIC Racing Animal Grants program, which provided grants of up to $10,000 to rehoming organisations, was woefully inadequate.

Mrs Bell said it could cost $10,000 to look after one horse a year at the "bare minimum".

"We've rehomed almost 1200 horses in the past 12 years," she said. "Of those, there's probably five times that have gone to slaughter. So I'm not saying that we can save everyone but they need to be doing something."



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