Five ‘essential’ factors identified for maintaining sport horses’ health and welfare

  • Experts have called for the creation of a welfare charter to help inform those involved in equine management.

    New research published by the Sporthorse Welfare Foundation (SWF) in scientific journal Animals has examined the key priorities regarding sport horse welfare. The Foundation, created last year, is made up of equestrian researchers and practitioners to “accelerate the application of objective, reliable and valid data to advance the knowledge and understanding of training and management of the equine athlete”.

    More than 100 equine professionals from 24 different countries and across the Olympic disciplines took part in four rounds of a Delphi study, a research technique used to reach group decisions. In conclusion, the participants agreed that five factors – training management, competition management, young horse management, health status and veterinary management, and horse-human relations – were “essential to maintain horse health and welfare”. Stable and environmental management, and welfare assessment were rated as important but not essential, as most respondents felt that these areas were already managed well.

    An SWF spokesman said that following this first tranche of research, funded by various equestrian organisations and federations – including World Horse Welfare, Hartpury University and British Equestrian – the experts involved have “called for improved education and research and a dedicated welfare charter to inform those involved in equestrian management practices”.

    It was also suggested that a “universally agreed” set of guidelines would help to maintain public acceptance of horse sport.

    “The next steps will be to evaluate the opinions of other (non-elite) equestrians and the wider public on the results, to identify areas for further investigation.”

    SWF will also collate evidence to understand what practices and management are being implemented across different countries, disciplines, competitions and individuals.

    “By increased monitoring, record-keeping and research, good practice can be identified and showcased to the wider equestrian communities and the public to establish a culture in which the quality of life for sporthorses is always the priority,” said the spokesman, adding that SWF plans to work with national and international federations to provide “targeted education and guidance” to improve the management of sport horse health and understanding of best welfare practices.

    World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H that with “elite equestrians at the frontline of public visibility, it is vital to listen to and include those at the top of the sport as equestrianism maps its path into the future”.

    He added: “This analysis of expert opinion helps fulfil this remit, and the results provide a valuable perspective on the priorities and knowledge base of the participants. World Horse Welfare is pleased to have been able to support this important study, which will form a solid basis for further work.”

    This year the FEI-appointed equine ethics and wellbeing commission announced plans for an equestrian charter to which all stakeholders should commit to (news, 4 May). The charter pledges to: “understand that it is a privilege to involve horses in sport and this comes with responsibilities to the horse”; and to “respecting the horse as a sentient creature capable of feeling both positive and negative emotions, and to ensuring its welfare is always my priority”. This charter was approved at the FEI general assembly last month and comes into force on 1 January.

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