Optimising horse welfare through online education platform


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Photo credit Bridget Kirkwood


TBA Learning initiative central to building knowledge and skills across the Australian thoroughbred industry

A united passion to ensure the welfare of thoroughbred horses by educating and training a skilled workforce is at the heart of a new Thoroughbred Breeders Association (TBA) online learning platform.

TBA Learning, launched in November 2022, was initiated in response to a desire to improve horse welfare, but the end result offers so much more.

“The industry said they wanted to improve the welfare of horses and one of the best ways we can do this is by developing people’s knowledge and skills,” TBA’s Marketing and communications manager, Cecelia O’Gorman said.

“The more educated our staff are, the more capable they will be and the safer it will be for the horses in their care.”

A key driver of the project is to attract people into the industry, including those with no prior experience with horses, and build on their existing knowledge and skills. The platform is also a veritable gold mine for stud managers who are under constant pressure not only to source skilled labour but upskill inexperienced people looking to join the industry.

“Through the project, we wanted to build capacity through improved knowledge and skills, and provide a baseline level of competency to increase horse welfare, but also the welfare, knowledge, skills and confidence of early career thoroughbred staff,” Cecelia said.

“If we can increase people’s awareness to recognise when there is a safety implication for themselves and for a horse, then we’ve achieved our goal.

“We are competing with other industries for staff at every turn and we need to be able to not only support employers who recognise the need to train new staff, but are overloaded and time poor, but also those entering the industry who often have little to no experience.”

Industry involvement drives platform development

Thoroughbred Breeders Australia contracted experienced strategy and media consultant, Bridget Kirkwood to deliver the project. Bridget engaged with key industry players from the outset to ensure the platform would meet their needs, and as a way to garner support from within.

“We initially looked at producing just three core units for the platform, but once we started consulting with industry the enthusiasm and feedback just snowballed,” she said.

“We started by asking stud managers to identify the single thing they wished everyone knew about horses before they
walked through the farm gates for the first time.”

The answer was consistent across the board — stud managers wished their staff would ask for help and understand horses can be dangerous and unpredictable. Bridget then explored the tasks managers give new staff.

“New staff end up doing the same jobs in most stud operations and managers need to invest significant time in people to bring them up to scratch — even though they are time poor,” she said.

“We came up with a list of things we thought would meet the foundational needs of industry.”

It was at this stage of the project TBA agreed to tip in additional funds to grow the project.

“We quickly recognised the project had the backing of industry and more potential to affect change than we originally estimated,” TBA Chief Executive Officer Tom Reilly said.

“It was clear there was a great need for knowledge and skills development, and that we needed to develop a truly national platform that fulfilled the needs of the industry.”

Utilising industry experience the key to success

With a bucket list of topics in hand, Bridget returned to industry to determine exactly what needed to be covered under each topic and identify industry experts willing to share their knowledge and skills. Bridget believes this process will be one of the keys to the success of the platform.

“It would have been easy to build the content, particularly the videos, with just a couple of industry experts, but staff love seeing people they know and respect in the resources, and that builds real engagement, not only with the platform but it builds greater connections cross the industry,” she said.

Bridget also believes the platform will instigate more two-way conversations on farm between staff and management.

“It gives inexperienced staff the confidence to start a conversation as they will have gained a baseline understanding of a topic and language to use with their boss,” she said.

“When we were creating the videos, staff would often say: ‘You’ve never told me that’.

“The project allowed some of those industry experts the time and space to really consider how to train someone and set aside the time to cover each topic in detail, because they were involved in developing the modules.”

In addition to utilising recognised experts, the platform delivers content with the target audience front and centre of mind. Every course includes written instructions, explanatory podcasts and how-to videos.

“We understand our target audience, how they share information and learn, so we have delivered our courses and modules accordingly,” Bridget said.

“Some people like to listen, some people like to watch videos and some people like to read, so we have used a multimedia approach on the learning platform.

“We also wanted people to be able to work through the courses at their own pace, unsupervised, so we have structured the content in a way that supports self-paced learning in 15–30-minute bite-sized chunks. Users can explore a single topic or complete a short course and gain a certificate of completion.”

Access to TBA Learning is free to anyone looking to improve their horse knowledge and their horse handling skills.

Learn more about this project
Find out more about the AgriFutures Thoroughbred Horses Program

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