World first as government officially recognises horses as athletes

  • The Italian government has become the first to officially recognise the horse as an athlete by law, in a move welcomed as an “interesting development”.

    The decision was made at the end of January by the Italian government, at a conference titled “Horse athlete: protections and prospects”, organised by the Italian equestrian federation (FISE).

    The legislation means that a horse is defined as an “athlete horse” when specific requirements are met; it is registered with FISE and declared not for human consumption.

    “Italy is a pioneering country in the legal recognition of the horse as a true athlete,” a FISE spokesman said.

    “Italy, with FISE at the forefront, is therefore a world leader for equine welfare, in particular regarding ‘athlete horses’ involved in equestrian sports.

    “This is an historic decision by the Italian government.”

    Representatives of the FEI, the Italian ministry of health and the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) were among those at the conference.

    IJRC director Eleonora Ottaviani, who contributed to the debate, said: “This law provides the opportunity to finally recognise the horse as subject, and no longer object, in our sport. The well-being and welfare of horses has long been an area of mutual collaboration between the IJRC and the FEI.

    “The news of the enactment of this important law in Italy was greeted with enthusiasm by the members of the IJRC. For the first time, the words ‘athletic horse’ or ‘athlete horse’ have become a legal term.”

    World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers told H&H this recognition is “certainly an interesting development”.

    “Clearly any step that better protects our equine partners is to be welcomed, especially as we have to recognise that the partnership between the human and equine athlete can never be an equal one,” he said. “Horses rely completely on us for their care and wellbeing and whether they are athletes or not, they are still horses and need to be treated as such. The real test for this unique piece of legislation is what’s in it for the horses and whether this translates into demonstrable improvements for them.”

    Top rider and trainer Pammy Hutton told H&H that to address recent horse welfare issues raised on social media, the world’s governing bodies have to show “leadership”.

    “So I say congratulations to Italy,” she said. “I don’t know where this will go but to my mind, it’s a step forward.”

    FISE added that the move will be the basis for future developments, such as in horse transport and veterinary controls, at national and EU level.

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