8 December 1997

A University of Queensland masters thesis dealing with humane road transportation of horses has led to both a State and national code of practice for the area.

For his master of agricultural science thesis with the University's Farm Animal Medicine and Production Department, John Lapworth covered thousands of kilometres along some of the country's harshest and most isolated roads observing the carriage of horses in double-deck cattle stockcrates.

The crates carry around 25 horses on each deck and are hauled by prime movers of more than 500 horsepower.

The thesis is believed to be one of the first in-depth studies of double-deck horse transport.

Mr Lapworth, senior livestock adviser (transport-handling-welfare) with Queensland's Department of Primary Industries, said he had been previously unconvinced of the feasibility of double-deck horse transport.

'Horses are not only taller than cattle but have an entirely different temperament,' he said.

'Their welfare is very important. Government authorities will not condone cruelty to these animals, and their humane treatment is crucial to the survival of Australia's $35 million horse meat export industry.'

However, with appropriate procedures both before and during transportation, Mr Lapworth said the double-deck mode was a safe and humane method.

The procedures outlined in his masters thesis have since been incorporated into both the Queensland Draft Code of Practice for Road Transport of Horses and the National Code of Practice for Road Transport of Horses.

For his thesis supervised by FAMP Associate Professor Dr Judith Blackshaw, Mr Lapworth travelled with horse transport drivers on five trips. These included journeys from Muttaburra, Queensland, to Bourke, New South Wales, (1100kms or 24 hours' drive), from Mooraberrie, Queensland, to Peterborough, South Australia, (a two-day drive) and from Kununurra, Western Australia, to Caboolture, Queensland, (3500km or three days' drive).

'I observed the horses' behaviour during the loading, unloading and the journey itself,' he said.

Mr Lapworth also interviewed people involved in the horse industry including musterers, transporters and processors.

A life member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Mr Lapworth said since the guidelines had been introduced, few horses had been lost while being transported.

Steps recommended in the thesis and adopted in the guidelines include adequate rest (between 12 and 24 hours in a yard), water and feed for horses before long road journeys - tired, thirsty, hungry and weak horses are more likely to go down during transport.

'Sick or injured horses or those in late pregnancy should not be carried. Any horse taller than 15 hands should be carried on a single deck and horses should have enough room in the crates, at least 1.2 metres square each,' Mr Lapworth said.

He said his thesis also found that all horses should have a clearance of 150mm between their wither (shoulder) and the deck above.

Mr Lapworth will be awarded his thesis at a graduation ceremony on Monday, December 8, at 4pm, with his wife and five children in the audience.

For more information, contact Mr Lapworth (telephone 07 3362 9560 or 0412 185 686).