Undercover TV documentary on Helgstrand Dressage to air this week – as stud announces measures to improve welfare

  • Major Danish stud Helgstrand Dressage has introduced “points of improvement” around its business conduct and animal welfare – ahead of the broadcast of a television programme filmed by an undercover reporter posing as a groom.

    Tomorrow (22 November) Danish television production company TV2 will air the Operation X documentary The Secrets of the Horse Billionaire, based on footage filmed with a hidden camera at Helgstrand Dressage.

    In June H&H reported that the stud had started legal proceedings against TV2 to block the broadcast, owing to the “journalistic methods” used. At the time Helgstrand Dressage founder and Danish team rider Andreas Helgstrand issued a statement condemning the secret filming – and said that the privacy of the stud and staff had been “violated solely to create an exciting documentary”. TV2 told H&H it had offered Andreas Helgstrand the chance to watch the “relevant section of the clandestine recordings”.

    A spokesman for Helgstrand Dressage issued a further statement on 13 November, the day before the final court hearing, stating that hidden cameras should be the “last thing you do when you need to uncover a case” – and that had the stud been approached by TV2, they would have allowed the production company inside. The statement added that whether they won or lost the case, they had “learned a lot”.

    “That being said, we are fully aware that the discussion of the broadcast has already started a debate about animal welfare and the education of elite horses,” said the Helgstrand spokesman.

    “This is a very important debate, where we at Helgstrand Dressage have a lot to learn. As one of the world’s most recognised training centres for dressage horses, of course there are great demands that we lead the way and set new standards for the industry.”

    The spokesman added that “based on the criticism, among other things” Helgstrand Dressage had carried out an independent legal investigation of the company’s business conduct, “just as we have thoroughly compared our practice and internal guidelines” to the Danish Animal Welfare Act, the Danish equestrian federation’s ethical guidelines, and the FEI’s code of conduct.

    “Against this background, we have introduced a number of measures and points of improvement for our business, animal welfare, and conditions for our employees. Several of those changes are leading in the industry today,” said the spokesman.

    The measures have been set out on Helgstrand’s website, where the training of horses, animal welfare, business conduct, employee working conditions and industry standards have been addressed.

    Discussing the training of horses, the statement reads that as “one of the world’s most recognised training centres” for dressage horses, Helgstrand Dressage is dedicated to training elite horses under the “best possible conditions for our employees and horses” – and that all treatment of the stud’s horses must be done with “wellbeing as the highest priority”.

    “When training an elite horse, different training methods can be used. It is our job to ensure that these are used correctly. If we are presented with clips that show that we are not adhering to our guidelines, we must of course rectify this. But let there be no doubt that mental or physical abuse of horses has always been prohibited at our company,” it reads.

    “We have taken the criticism of our company seriously. We have thoroughly reviewed our work processes and introduced a wide range of measures. We are not only committed to complying with current legislation, but strive to set higher standards for the industry – whether it’s our work with horses, our business practices or the conditions for our employees.”

    In a further Helgstrand Dressage statement on Friday (17 November) a spokesman said that the stud did not agree with the court’s decision to allow the programme to be aired – and reiterated that they did not believe it was fair on their staff that hidden cameras had been used.

    “There must be no doubt that it is absolutely central to us that our horses thrive, and we put animal welfare above everything else,” said the spokesman.

    “Dressage as an industry is still developing, and working with horses at an elite level demands a lot from both rider and horse. With that said, our horses cannot be world-class if we do not treat them like this. Animal welfare is therefore a top priority at Helgstrand Dressage. We take that very seriously – both now and in the future.”

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