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New Zealand’s first horse ambulance has been built in Green Island and had its first use at Wingatui on Melbourne Cup day.
Its rollout is a timely given the death of Melbourne Cup runner Cliffsofmoher on Tuesday has made equine welfare a major talking point in Australasia.
Taieri-based veterinarian Dr Peter Gilespie and transport engineers at T.L. MacLean Ltd have combined in the production of the ambulance to help lead the development of racehorse care.
It may look similar to a horsefloat on the outside, but inside it is a fully equipped equine emergency room.
It features a hydraulic suspension system, which allows the ambulance to be completely lowered to the ground to limit the stress of loading a horse for transportation to a vet clinic.
Horse ambulances were already in use in Australia and it was there that a prime example of their use could be demonstrated, Gillespie said.
Last year, popular New Zealand galloper Gingernuts fractured a pastern on his way to the barriers for the start of the Emirates Stakes in Melbourne.
He was immediately pulled up by his jockey and loaded on to a horse ambulance.
"The perfect example is Gingernuts.
"That horse was able to be saved because he was stabilised," Gillespie said.
"He was able to be transported to an equine referral centre and the fracture remained relatively stable.
"These ambulances will have all the right splinting equipment and a cabinet full of the right sort of gear.
"Basically, the horse will be able to be strapped and supported and taken off the racecourse."
Those types of injuries are rare given the number of races held in Otago and Southland each year.
Gillespie estimates the ambulances could be put to use three or four times a year for similar serious injuries.
The ambulance was at Wingatui for the Otago Racing Club’s meeting on Tuesday but was not required.
It has now been transported to Christchurch, where it will be used during the New Zealand Cup carnival.
The newly designed ambulance could be considered the horse equivalent of the medicab that transports injured players off Forsyth Barr Stadium.
"What we are trying to do is address the welfare of the animal and support the animal and get them off the track and increase their chances of recovering from that injury," Gillespie said.
Construction of a second ambulance has already started at T.L. Maclean Ltd.
The ambulance programme is a collaborate project by racing bodies that is being led by the New Zealand Horse Ambulance Trust.
It plans to commission a total of five ambulances and have them in operation across New Zealand.
Gillespie is on the organisation’s board and having the ambulances built in Dunedin means he can oversee and have input into the design-and-build process.
"It’s wonderful that we can have these ambulances made locally, not only for the local economy but also the fact that they are costing close to half the price to be made here, rather than having them built offshore," Gillespie said.