Carl Hester: urgent rewrite of Brexit rules needed to avoid welfare problems in Calais *H&H Plus*


  • THE bulbs are in bloom, the grass is growing and, by the time you read this column, we should have some more information around the Government’s lockdown exit strategy. I am looking forward to hearing this, as I’m sure the rest of British Dressage’s (BD) 17,000 members are, too.

    Dressage, as of course you will know, is all about training. It is so exciting to see the breadth of opportunities available within BD for horses of all shapes and sizes – not only to strut their stuff in the arena, but to be trained correctly along the scales of training.

    Riders can take confidence that whether their equine partner is a 17.2hh warmblood, a patchy cob or a retrained racehorse; their mounts are judged according to the same scale of marking.

    When I started out in my career, dressage was considered an elitist sport. I went to Goodwood and somehow won the Young Dressage Rider Championship in 1985, but back then I did not have a clue about the ways in which the sport was perceived, or about anything to do with dressage really.

    But just look at what is on offer today; how accessible the sport is to grassroots riders, how Royal Navy, Army and RAF riders have got teams going with support from their sports boards, how nurses and paramedics have taken solace with their horses – and the hugely popular Quest Club offers everyone a chance to be on a team if they want to.

    Welfare concerns caused by Calais delays

    I have been very concerned hearing the horror stories coming out of the port at Calais since Brexit.

    While we dressage riders have been holding fire on travelling to mainland Europe to compete because of scheduling, lockdown and to assess the challenges, the intelligence gathered by our showjumpers has been extremely troubling, as Graham Fletcher highlighted in his column (11 February).

    I have heard reports of horses being held for eight or more hours, standing in their trucks, while veterinary teams check and stamp the endless pages of newly created health certificates. These have gone from a single document to between 30 and 40 pages, all of which need to be filled in with the right colour pen and deletions made in a prescribed way.

    How does this assist in improving animal welfare – a principle the EU and the UK committed to upholding in the long-awaited trade agreement signed on Christmas Eve?

    My view is that it is not a Brexit blame game; the powers that be are lobbying for improvement on our behalf, but it is key to get consent from all the politicos involved for the stapler-wranglers and pen-pushers to reconfigure this agreement. A rewrite is the only way to sort out this mess, and it seems there is will on both sides of the Channel.

    When my friend and fellow Olympian Richard Davison reported that he is currently in touch with the head honcho at the Port of Calais, who has personally been down to see the situation, that was great news. Apparently, the gentleman in question is horsey.

    Transporting competition horses, who already have ID, FEI passports and up-to-date injections, who also have surveillance when travelling to FEI competition stables, cannot pose a threat.

    The Sunshine Tours that we used to compete on offered amateur and professional riders a chance to progress over a few weeks (not always in the sunshine, believe me) and a lot of fun. And then of course there is the impact on European shows as part of preparation for championships. There must be a better way.

    Looking at home and away, it’s nearly spring and hope springs eternal.

    Also published in H&H magazine, 25 February 2021


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