Carl Hester: Horse welfare must come first *H&H subscribers*


  • There has been a bit of furore at the news that British Dressage (BD) is to close the online members’ forum. I say a “bit of”, as only about 200 of 17,000 BD members are active on it, and while I appreciate the value of a member-to member chat area, I totally understand the decision.

    It can’t be the best use of time for a governing body’s staff to be doing the labour-intensive job of monitoring a forum — but it does need to be monitored, as part of the governing body’s website — nor can it be the best use of funds, at £16-24,000, to build one as part of the new website.

    It’s worth noting that neither British Eventing (BE) nor British Showjumping currently have a forum, and that in the BD survey sent out earlier this year the forum scored quite low in importance to members. BD is looking at a whole host of other interactive platforms for members — for example a running noticeboard with updates on popular subjects, an “ask the experts” on Facebook live chat and Q&A sessions on Twitter. The advantage of opening up so many new avenues is that hopefully all members will find one they like, and that BD communications staff can get on with communicating to the outside world.

    A question of harmonisation

    Another subject of vociferous discussion among some has been the vaccination rule, which makes six monthly boosters against equine flu mandatory. I’m afraid as professionals we see this as a matter of course; we have to comply with FEI requirements, so in fact it’s a question of harmonisation and I for one applaud BD for leading the way on this, along with BE.

    Sometimes horses do get sore after a jab but you just have to factor that in when planning, and allow for a few days of easy work or time off.

    Similarly, it’s a brave step to update the rules on hyperflexion and blood, making clear that the former is neither permitted nor tolerated, and updating the wording on the latter to reflect FEI rules.

    I applaud BD in tackling both these issues head-on with action and process. We’re all agreed that horse welfare comes first and the fact that rollkur is mentioned in the rule book, along with the consequences if judges or stewards see it, is good in terms of transparency.

    A great experience

    I’m not getting excited about Christmas just yet, but I am looking forward to being one of the presenters of the Olympia masterclass extravaganza, to be held before the grand prix. This, together with other initiatives to liven up the grand prix — interviews and music, building on last year — will make for a fabulous spectator experience.

    During a positive session in Germany attended by Isabell Werth, Monica Theodorescu and Olympia’s dressage technical consultant Richard Davison, among others, a good five-minute grand prix test was agreed on. This will cut the risk of wear and tear on horses during the indoor season — the main reason behind shortening the grand prix — yet will still flow. So let’s hope this test gets approval from the FEI for use in Olympia’s pilot class this year. It will be challenging to ride, and great to watch.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 10 October 2019