‘This is not a PR exercise’: transparency vital to ensure horse sport’s future

  • “First we have to do the right thing, second we have to talk about it” – was the simple message from a seminar on how to communicate on the equine industry.

    Experts from World Horse Welfare and the FEI were among the speakers at the European Horse Network-hosted seminar on date.

    Haike Blaauw, managing director at the the Federation of Dutch Equestrian Centers (FNRS) said it is “more important than ever before” for equestrianism “to be visible in a positive way”.

    “But first of all, you have to do the right things – and then you have to communicate about it,” he said.

    “Every three years we do research in the Netherlands about the sport, the public support of horse sports and keeping horses.

    “What we see in the Netherlands is that there is still large support for keeping horses by humans, but the support is decreasing slowly but surely. And the same is true for the public support in society for horse sports.”

    He added that the research found that strong supporters are “very familiar” with horse sport, while the strong opposers are not. This formed the basis of a public campaign, encouraging personal storytelling by all those involved in the industry to share personal and inspiring stories, with the message that “this is what horses do in Paris”.

    FEI communications director Olivia Robinson said it is “very important” for the horse world “to be genuine, transparent, honest and accountable”.

    “From my humble opinion, there is a lot of learning to be done in terms of being accountable in the sense that it’s okay to admit to mistakes or shortcomings or to look at areas to be strengthened, because this is how things evolve,” said Ms Robinson. “It’s a question of taking stock and not always endorsing the status quo, but thinking ‘How can we do this better?’ For me, that’s a big sign of strength, because it shows that we can be trusted to self-regulate and that’s what society wants to see.

    “Accountability is one of the key areas in terms of maintaining our social licence to operate.”

    She added the horse world should take this summer’s Olympics as a real opportunity to present good stories.

    “It’s our job to earn the trust of the public and not the other way round,” said Ms Robinson.

    “We need to work closely, to be united and consistent in our messaging, to share resources, expertise, stories, science and research.

    “We have an amazing amount of collective knowledge within our industries and often my experience is that sometimes we are all working in separate bubbles, when we could be using economies of scale and really sharing better.”

    She added: “This really is not a PR exercise. It’s about walking the talk. We need to embrace scrutiny, and not shy away from it or deny it, and we need to champion change.”

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