Koffels seek safer standards of tuition after TAFE tragedy

The Sydney Morning Herald

Broadcast:31st May 2011

Sarah Waugh was a city girl who dreamed of being a country vet. Hoping to be accepted into a rural veterinary science course at university, the 18-year-old from Newcastle took a gap year to experience life on the land.

She enrolled in a jillaroo course at Dubbo TAFE. But in March 2009, on the final day of her practical horse riding training, her horse bolted and she was killed in a fall. The four-year-old thoroughbred, which she called Dargo, was actually a racehorse known as Snakey Thought.

One of the several horses hired by TAFE, it was recorded as having run its fourth race of 2009 at the Binnaway track on February 7, just days before Sarah’s TAFE course began.

An inquest next week at the Coroner’s Court in Glebe will examine the circumstances of Ms Waugh’s death, including how a racehorse came to be supplied as a mount for beginner riders.

Racing aside, the horse industry is not subject to mandatory regulations, only a voluntary code of practice.

Her grieving parents, Juliana and Mark Waugh, hope further tragedies can be prevented through regulation of the riding education industry and tighter standards for vocational courses.

“I can’t save Sarah,” Ms Waugh said. “All I can do is try… to [have people] look at this the right way and fix it properly.”

The Greens MP David Shoebridge has put questions on notice to the Minister of Education, asking what regulations are in place to ensure horses used at Dubbo TAFE are suitable for students, and what has been done since Ms Waugh’s death to prevent similar accidents.

When she died, the horses were hired by TAFE from a local contractor and brought in for lessons two days a week, which meant instructors had limited information about the animals.

She had ridden before but had limited experience.

“She had always ridden school horses in an arena,” her mother said. “Sarah had no idea… that [Dargo] was a racehorse.”

Mrs Waugh said a system was needed to track a horse and its history “so there’s no guess about what it has been doing before you put your child on it”.

The family’s lawyer, Ross Koffel, said: “This is not about blame, it’s about making teaching to ride better and safer. The knowledge and experience is there, and the educational and riding institutions need to be guided and required to access this depth of knowledge.”

Judi Tainsh, the secretary of the Australian Horse Industry Council, said regulations would not cover every accident because horses were unpredictable, but the council would welcome legislated standards for the industry to help protect riders