We just signed up to 76,800 horses on our wild beaches

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By Carol Altmann

The full power of the horse racing industry in Victoria has been laid bare.

In 118 pages, the Belfast Coastal Reserve Management Plan released this week ties itself in knots to justify the unjustifiable: allowing full-scale racehorse training along one of the few, accessible wild beaches in our area.

At no time, unlike with the dirt-bike riders or off-road drivers, did the State Government consider banning racehorse training on the stretch of beach between east Killarney and Levy’s Beach, which is home to a breathtaking array of endangered birdlife and indigenous cultural heritage.

No, from day one, it has been a case of the government working out how to accommodate racehorses, as if they have been on our beaches for thousands of years and have wings and feathers, or gills and scales.

Let’s do the maths on what is now going to happen:

Up to 40 racehorses a day, five days a week, all year round, will be allowed to train on ‘Hoon Hill’, a long sand dune area west of Levy’s Beach. This equals up to 200 horses a week.

Up to 120 horses a day can train on Levy’s Beach foreshore, five days a week, all year round. This equals up to 600 horses a week.

This means up to 800 horses a month will be running up the dunes and 2400 running along the beach.

In one year, this is the equivalent of up to 9600 horses on the dunes and 28,800 on the beach.

In two years time, when the government plans to assess the impact, there will have been – potentially – a combined total of 76,800 horse movements along Levy’s Beach and up the dunes at Hoon Hill.

Up to 76,800 horse movements in just two years of a 15-year plan.

Will it have an impact on the beach? Hmm, let me think about that for one nano second.

This entire “problem” of what to do about professional racehorse trainers has been created by the sheer power of an industry that has huge clout well beyond our little patch in south-west Victoria.

You only have to see the cosying up that goes on between politicians and the Victorian Racing Club.

Free passes. Memberships. Tickets to the Cup. Heck, some of them even own racehorses themselves, like our local MPs Dan Tehan and James Purcell who, in an Orwellian twist, receives lavish praise for looking after his own interests and that of his son, Aaron, a professional racehorse trainer.

And if anyone dares to mention that racehorses can be trained in purpose-built facilities, that they don’t actually need to be trained on our wild beaches, they are whacked with a thinly-veiled form of blackmail: the trainers will go “elsewhere” (although I am not sure where “elsewhere” is), all the jobs will dry up and the local racing industry will collapse.

What a load of bullshite.

The Warrnambool Racing Club would not be investing millions into the Warrnambool racecourse if its whole survival depended on continued access to a stretch of coastline.

Let’s not forget that these professional racehorse trainers just started showing up at Levy’s one day, using the beach without permits or permission, and when one of those horses won a Melbourne Cup in 2015, they began to arrive by the truckload.

But instead of telling these trainers to pack up and leave a coastal reserve, it was decided there was no option but to bend the rules around them. Not only that, carparks and tracks will now be added to give them better access!

The motorcross riders and off-road drivers must be feeling hard done by.

They have been tearing around the dunes at Levy’s Beach for years and – quite rightly – have been given notice that they will no longer be tolerated.

So as one form of horsepower moves out, another much stronger horsepower is moving in.

The churned up sand at Lady Bay, Warrnambool. left by racehorses in training. Image Bill Yates.

Don’t be fooled for one second by the romantic images of horses wading into the surf to soothe their weary muscles, or swimming gently behind a row boat as they swim out their strains. They can do that now at Lady Bay.

This is not horse riding, this is racehorse training, on a massive scale.

This is about conditioning, this is about pace and strength: the hard, powerful stuff, up dunes and down dunes and along long stretches of beach, dodging the walkers and birdwatchers and startled birds, and squashing the starfish and worms and bugs and shellfish and little pids and pods that make up the full and brilliant ecosystem of a wild coastline.

It makes me want to weep, this sort of destruction, all for no other reason than convenience, ease and greed.

And nobody else, nobody, but the powerful racing industry would ever get away with it.

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11 thoughts on “We just signed up to 76,800 horses on our wild beaches”

  1. So eloquently put- you have said it all. It is a portent of the desecration of these lovely wild beaches, for our future generations, and of the shame to come!

  2. Thanks Carol. This indeed encapsulates the problem here on our pristine beaches. Do you know if horse training on beaches occurs elsewhere on Australia’s shores?

      1. The short answer is there are beaches around Australia that allow horses for recreational horse riding, but I know of none that allow racehorse training. Of those that allow horses, none, that I know of, allow access to the dunes.
        An update, thanks to a reader, is that racehorses are permitted, under permit, below the high tide mark on Balnarring Beach, Westernport Bay, although this is the subject of a local campaign to stop the practice. They are also permitted at 13th Beach, near Barwon Heads. Dune work does not appear to be part of the 13th Beach access.

        1. I have heard, Carol, that locals at Balnarring have been desperately, but unsuccessfully fighting for their beach, which has apparently been terribly trashed by the racing industry activities that have been allowed there. Not a role model we want to follow…

          1. Yes, there have been articles in the local media there recently about this Marion. They are facing very similar issues to here, it seems. I still can’t get my head around how racehorse training became an acceptable use of any public beach.

  3. I drive past the Warrnambool racecourse every day and wonder at the expanse of prime land – gifted land – which sits mostly idle, rarely a horse in sight. The centre area of the racecourse seems to be unused. There are two large paddocks adjacent, both with noticeable hills. Why the hell don’t these areas get more use? Should truck loads of sand be brought in to provide the surface needed to exercise the horses and the hills be used to provide stamina based training? Maybe we need to make better use of what we have before we start destroying what is not our’s to destroy – I bet the hooded plovers be better off.

  4. A very comprehensive response to this devastating report! The pressure must be kept up to address a gross injustice to the wildlife on our beaches. The govt continues to acquest to the racing industry with disastrous consequences.

  5. Habitat needs to be left unaltered for vulnerable wild life. Not degraded by greed of the uneducated.

  6. Thank you for such a perceptive article, as usual, Carol. You’ve said it all, and so eloquently. The impact of the racehorse trainers is shocking … I’ve seen the destruction they cause, and the disregard and disrespect they have for the beaches, the birds, the signs, the rules, the environment and cultural values, and the safety of the people using the beach for recreation.

    We can grieve the decisions, the greedy power plays, dirty politics and secret deals which have led to this, but we will never stop fighting for what is right…for the BCR, the wildlife and our future generations.

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