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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Australia's Horse Industry Shut Down by Disease: One Farrier's Story

Sydney farrier Stephen Head, as seen in the Herald Sun, is forced into unemployment until the horse flu quarantine is lifted.

Stephen Head is one of the best and the brightest of Sydney-area farriers. With the shutdown of Sydney's Randwick Racecourse and all horse events in the state of New South Wales, he has resigned himself to the fact he will have no income this month. And perhaps not next month, either. Or the month after.

The quarantine extends 30 days after the last horse shows symptoms of the flu, or is diagnosed.

While the farriers in the quarantine states of Queensland and New South Wales could travel to Melbourne Adelaide or Western Australia, where races, breeding, and horse shows can go on (although no one knows for how long), it would mean leaving behind their families.

While hooves will continue to grow during the quarantine, the farriers aren't being allowed into farms and tracks and showgrounds except for emergency care. That means that when the ban is lifted, all the horses will need to be trimmed and shod t the same time. In fact, they will all be overdue. How do you spell s-t-r-e-s-s?

In Australia, farriers are registered with their state governments. They are eligible for some government assistance in this time of crisis.

Here's part of an interview with Stephen Head in yesterday's Herald Sun:

"If things go to plan, maybe next month I'll get about 40 per cent of what I'd normally earn, and the month after that I'm assuming my income will be back to normal.

"The cruel thing is that this period is normally our best three months of the year. We can't get that back now."

In the meantime, Mr Head has had plenty of time to look at his finances. He has had his mortgage payments suspended, his children's school fees suspended, and he has been in contact with the finance company about getting the car lease payments suspended.

"The bank and the school were both sympathetic. I think that if you contact them first and tell them of your difficulties they will be very tolerant.

"The next thing I have to do is contact the Taxation Department to suspend payments to them because I don't know what the cash flow is going to be like."

He also doesn't know what is going to happen with his two young apprentices. "For the past week they've been in the blacksmith shop honing their skills in shoemaking," he said. "Now they're on two weeks' holiday."

After that he's uncertain. He's had someone come by from the Department of Education and Training to talk about options, one of which is letting them go, but that's something he'd rather not do.

Meanwhile, he has been wondering how he could have done things differently.

"The big thing for people is to have loss of profit insurance, which I don't have," he said. "The other thing is to have savings to help you ride this thing out."

In another report, farrier Bob Sim says the impact of the virus has been devastating for his family.

“I basically lost probably 90 per cent of my income, to the extent that we actually had to go to the bank yesterday and ask them to put a freeze on my mortgage because I can’t pay it,” he said.

By the way, Bob is one of 18 members of the American Farrier's Association who live in the two affected states, according to the most recent AFA member directory.

Following this post are two news clips from Australia; one is from two weeks ago, the other is one week or

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