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Equine courses axed at Richmond TAFE, leaving horse industry, students, and teachers stunned
Horses are big in the Hawkesbury – we’re home to the world-class Godolphin stables and training centre, there’s a range of major horse breeding operations, there’s horse showing, equestrian, polo, horse racing, and even recreational riding, so it’s little surprise Richmond TAFE features a whole range of equine courses.
What is surprising is those courses are being chopped, and 12 staff positions at Richmond TAFE are under threat.
“These courses are an important link to train people to look after horses, and become strappers or track riders or whatever avenue they choose to be involved in,” says Godolphin’s assistant trainer and award-winning jockey Darren Beadman.
Mr Beadman knows more than a thing or two about horses. He’s a world-famous Australian jockey who holds the record for the highest number of horse racing victories in the metropolitan area – that’s 162 wins.
In 2007, he was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, the first jockey to be inducted whilst still competing.
He’s also a seven-times Sydney premiership winner and has won most of Australia’s big races, as well as a clutch of major overseas victories too.
Mr Beadman says he can barely believe Richmond TAFE would even consider giving the courses the chop. He says they offer a well-respected feeder program, providing incoming staff with recognised certificates and giving Godolphin the confidence they are employing people who understand horses.
“It’s not just here, it filters out into the local area and then becomes a ripple effect and spreads out to other stables across the State,” he says.
“Given the current situation we are in with COVID, the stables are forever trying to recruit staff.
The Hawkesbury is home to major horse-breeding and racing stables
“It’s so important to train people up because you are dealing with a highly spirited animal and in order to take care of them you need to be skilled in horsemanship skills.”
“You are taking full care and responsibilities for an animal, it can be dangerous too so I think the more education and the more skills you can give people it’s going to make everyone’s life that much easier,” he says.
“It would be sad to see it discontinued. It’s obviously a good feeder for the industry.
“We’re talking about the grassroots of racing. If you haven’t got people to look after the horses, you haven’t got anyone to take the horses to the races. They look after them in the morning, do track work, exercise them, and I think people with those skills are vitally important in our industry.
“It is a strange thing to do [closing the courses] in the sense that if we’re not training people up, where are we getting the staff from?
“And we constantly need new blood in the industry.”
The government is consulting with staff on their plans to cut three racing industry courses – Certificate II in Racing Industry, Certificate III in Racing (Stablehand) and Certificate III in Racing (Trackwork Rider) – as well at the Certificate III in Performance Horse studies.
The proposal would also see the Certificate IV in Farriery move into Animals Studies – completely shutting equine studies down at the Richmond campus.
Twelve TAFE staff are set to lose their jobs when the plan goes ahead.
“The Hawkesbury has a vibrant equine industry, encompassing racing, sport, horses in the Olympic sports of dressage, show-jumping and cross country, not to mention polo, pony clubs, breeding and agistment,” says Macquarie MP Susan Templeman.
Hundreds of Hawkesbury youngsters have learnt how to look after horses and build careers in the industry, thanks to Richmond TAFE
“Hawkesbury’s Local Strategy Planning Statement, published in January last year, estimated equine services in the Hawkesbury to be worth nearly $160 million annually, employing nearly 700 people.”
“The racing industry alone employed more than 100 people back in 2016.
“That’s why it’s completely unfathomable that the State Government wants to cut these courses,” the MP told the Post.
“Local equine operators – including global racing giant Godolphin, which has its state-of-the-art facilities located at Agnes Banks – have employed students enrolled in the TAFE courses because they receive excellent training and are passionate about the job,” said Ms Templeman.
“Working with horses is dangerous, and industry employers want to provide the safest environment possible for their workers. To do that, staff must arrive on the job knowing the basics.
“COVID has meant people travelling from areas like the UK and Ireland, who would traditionally work in Australian stables, aren’t arriving in the same numbers.
“These TAFE students could provide a greater pool of trained local workers, but the NSW Government is allowing that pool to dry up.”
The NSW Teachers Federation has opposed the plan outright, describing it as “short-sighted and reckless”.
NSW Teachers Federation, Deputy Secretary Post Schools, Phill Chadwick, said, “The TAFE Equine Studies teachers and support staff provide critical theoretical and practical skills to students at Richmond TAFE.
“These teachers are consummate professionals in their industry and the training they provide ensures that students are not only work-ready but can safely work in high-risk environments,” Mr Chadwick said.
“For our equine studies teachers, their work is so much more than just a job – it is a passion – and their work has transformed the lives of so many students.
“This proposal is yet another example of the failure of the NSW Government’s so called ‘Smart & Skilled’ policy, where inadequate and drastically reduced funding has seen courses cut and colleges closed across NSW.
“Federation is astounded that the NSW Government and TAFE NSW are opportunistically using the COVID-19 Pandemic to cite low student enrolments as justification to shut down courses such as Equine Studies.
“TAFE NSW is absolutely essential to a skills-led economic and social recovery and cannot happen if the government continues its attacks.
“It is time that the government recognises vocational education and training as an investment and not a cost and restores guaranteed and increased funding to TAFE NSW as the trusted public provider.”
Equestrian events demand high levels of skill, skills in part learnt at Richmond TAFE
And then of course there are the local students whose dream of working with horses is now also under threat.
Hawkesbury’s Emily Griffith is 17 and has been riding since she was 10. Her mum Debbie says Emily lives and breathes horses and owns an Arabian horse, bred by a local breeder, and she’s riding in dressage competitions with Equestrian NSW.
“Last year we attended a session at the Richmond TAFE and decided this was the right course and close to home,” said Mrs Griffiths.
“We received a call 3 days before Christmas and were advised the course was not going ahead.
“To say the least Emily is now lost in what her career path will take and after getting approval to start the course and approved to leave school early in year 11 she is very disappointed. The TAFE doesn’t offer any other type of course for horses. She would have to move interstate or hours away from home to do something even close.”
Emily told the Post:
“When I got the call, I thought it was going to be good news but the lady on the phone told me it wasn’t running any more and it made me feel very disappointed and upset. I didn’t have any words at the time.”
“I had left school looking forward to starting something new and am now stuck with nowhere to go. It’s hard as a 17-year-old, if you’re not going to school, to decide what you want to do. As most people my age are going ahead to year 12 and getting an HSC or finding themselves trades and going to TAFE, learning those skills, just as I was going to, but this opportunity has been taken away from me leaving me very lost.”
A TAFE NSW spokeswoman told us this evening:
· From Semester 1, TAFE NSW Richmond will cease delivery of four low enrolment equine courses. TAFE NSW will continue to deliver equine studies in Western Sydney Region including Farriery and Agriculture.
· TAFE NSW will redirect resources into supporting additional training places for Western Sydney, including Richmond, in critical skills areas such as peri-urban agriculture, animal sciences, childcare, aged care, disability support, and traditional trades.
· Over the coming 12 months, the NSW Government will invest $1.5 million in TAFE NSW Richmond for a new veterinary clinic, agricultural livestock facilities and equipment, and a Connected Learning Point.
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