The horse racing industry is facing a crisis that could potentially put inexperienced staff in danger.
That is the worry for Russell Warwick, general manager of breeding giant Westbury Stud with the start of the new thoroughbred breeding season just weeks away.
Industry leader Warwick is worried about getting experienced staff into the country to not only help care for and train horses but the thousands of broodmares and valuable stallions about to enter the busy breeding season.
The breeding of horses, particularly in thoroughbred racing where all mares have to actually be mated with the stallion rather than in other industries where artificial insemination is allowed, is highly-skilled labour.
But Warwick says he and others running breeding operations are being refused the right to bring those staff into the country without the chance to explain their issue to Immigration New Zealand.
"We applied to have nine specialist workers come to New Zealand for the breeding season and none of them got accepted," Warwick told the Herald today.
"You can only lodge your applications online and we got a response saying these roles aren't specialists and can be filled from inside New Zealand.
"Well, if whoever made that decision at the Immigration Department can tell us the people who are living here who can do the job and are available we would be thrilled to find out, because we can't find them."
Warwick realises the horse racing and breeding industries aren't the only ones struggling to get overseas staff into New Zealand but says the breeding industry, in particular, needs these staff or faces losses in revenue and staff being asked to fill roles they aren't qualified for.
"Handling any racehorse is skilled labour but 600kg stallions during breeding season when they are full of testosterone is very, very specialised and can be dangerous.
"Because of that a lot of the expert handlers head to the Northern Hemisphere for their breeding season [approximately four months] and back here for ours, so they can work full-time.
"But now they can't get back in we are short of staff and being told there are other people who can do it.
"That is simply not correct and I'd love the opportunity to explain that to the people at Immigration NZ who make these decisions.
"The way the season is looking we might only have one stallion handler working for maybe 20 stallion services a day for three or four months.
"That isn't safe or sustainable and I am worried for other studs and/or trainers who are going through the same thing."
Warwick says therein lies another problem, with WorkSafe NZ insisting the industry remains safe for all staff but another government department telling them they can't have the right staff for an industry that contributes enormously to the economy.
"It is frustrating because we aren't being listened to by the government departments and we are almost starting breeding season and I can't see how this is all going to work.
"Worst case scenario somebody involved with horses, or is training, could get hurt by being asked to fill a role they aren't experienced enough for."
NZTR chief executive Bernard Saundry says the organisation is conducting a survey of trainers, studs and other sectors of the industry to get a better indication of the staff shortfall.
"We have had a lot of horse people running businesses inside the industry tell us they are having the same problems so we want to get accurate numbers and then approach the Government," says Saundry. "But we realise this needs to be addressed sooner rather than later because breeding season is upon us and these aren't jobs anybody can do."