All riders have a part to play in ensuring horse sport’s future

  • Calls were made at the National Equine Forum for everyone in the horse world to take responsibility for ensuring the future of equestrian sport. H&H reports...

    We must all take responsibility for ensuring equestrian sport retains its social licence to operate – and thrives in future.

    World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said all riders have a part to play in telling the story of how horse sport benefits all parties involved, at the National Equine Forum on 5 March.

    H&H has reported on the importance of a social licence to operate – essentially the ongoing acceptance of its practices by stakeholders and the public (news, 3 January 2019). And the topic is of increasing importance.

    “We live in a changing world where public opinion is evolving,” he said. “We live in an increasingly urbanised society, so distance between rural life, and horses, and most of society is getting even bigger.”

    He added that while riders know of the partnership between themselves and their horses, some, such as the increasing number of animal rights campaingers, believe riding is exploitation.

    “There’s a growing number of people who say it’s abuse, and this is a global issue,” he said, adding that public outcry over poor treatment of former racehorses in Australia, or issues in Middle Eastern endurance, for example, reflect on all horse sport.

    “Public perception and reality may be completely divorced but even if the perception isn’t right, that’s what they think,” he said.

    Mr Owers added that perception of welfare is changing, and that protecting animals from negative experiences is not enough; they must thrive rather than survive, and mental wellbeing is as important as physical health.

    He said we need to remember horses’ origins as herd animals, and try to give them the three Fs: freedom, friends and forage, as much as possible.

    “We need to challenge the status quo,” he said. “Just because we’ve always done something doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, but it doesn’t make it right either.”

    He said there needs to be more investment in research, so when we say a horse enjoys something, there is evidence to back this up. But we also need to promote the horse-human partnership we know exists, and its benefits to both parties.

    “We need to really think about how we tell our story to the public,” he said. “We need to articulate the benefits. It’s a collective responsibility and we all have a part to play.”

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