The British Horse Society (BHS) is obstructing leading equine charity World Horse Welfare from joining the British Equestrian Federation (BEF).

The BEF comprises 16 independent member bodies — from British Dressage to the Pony Club — each an equestrian organisation in its own right.

“We feel we have something to offer and we can be of use,” said Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare.

The charity, which is totally focused on welfare, has five vets on its staff and six vets on its advisory committees. It applied to join the BEF last June, but the BHS blocked the move, saying there was no need for a second “welfare arm”.

The BHS does include welfare in its mandate, but is also concerned with safety, access, training and approval of riding establishments.

BHS chief executive Graham Cory told H&H: “We’re entirely happy for World Horse Welfare to be associated with the BEF but as far as membership is concerned it is not necessary.”

Under company rules, the BEF cannot sign up a new body that undertakes similar work to that of an existing member.

BEF chief executive Andrew Finding explained: “Both organisations have an important welfare consideration and the BHS is an important member of the BEF, but World Horse Welfare does a lot of work internationally and has just been made an associate member of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI).”

But Mr Cory argues the BHS “provides the expertise and lead on welfare issues for the BEF” — for example in consultation with Defra over recent changes to the Animal Welfare Act.

While the BHS’s welfare department is not staffed by vets, he said “most have equine science degrees” and vets sit on two BHS advisory committees.

Much of World Horse Welfare’s work is the rescue and rehabilitation of horses, which the BHS does not do.

“There are organisations doing it better than we were,” said Mr Cory. “And rescue and rehabilitation has little to do with the sport of equestrianism — and the BEF is about sport.”

But David Holmes, director of sport at the FEI said: “Welfare of the horse is at the heart of everything we do.”

And it was for this reason that the FEI invited World Horse Welfare to become an associate member last November.

Andrew Finding said no membership application had been blocked before. This is despite the Association of British Riding Schools — whose work also clashes with that of the BHS — joining in 2001.

Mr Finding said World Horse Welfare’s application would be put forward to the BEF council “when the BHS is ready”.

Roly Owers said World Horse Welfare didn’t want to “step on anyone’s toes”, adding: “But we do believe that as we are now an associate member of the FEI it is quirky for us not to have
an association with our domestic federation.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (22 January, ’08)