Nick Skelton: ‘We don’t abuse our horses – we’ve nothing to hide’


  • Olympic showjumping champion Nick Skelton speaks out on prioritising horse welfare and why we need to be proactive in educating the world outside horse sport

    It feels as if everything we do and love in the equestrian world is under attack right now, from the do-gooders trying to water down our Olympic disciplines to the protestors at the Grand National. So now is the time to engage with and educate the outside world and be proactive about selling the sports we love.

    Nobody wants us to be seen in a bad light, so I support the new FEI welfare-related rule that means combinations may be eliminated mid-round during a showjumping competition if deemed “contrary to the principles of horse welfare”. But the problem there is that the judges being relied upon to make this call aren’t necessarily knowledgeable horse people.

    That’s why I came up with the idea to have two experienced riders sitting in the box in rotation during championships, for example. If I’d been in that role during the World Championships in Herning, Denmark, last year, I wouldn’t have rung the bell once as nobody looked like they were getting into trouble; it’s only there to stop what could potentially unravel. But at the Tokyo Olympics the previous year, we cringed at times at what we were watching and yet the powers that be could do nothing to stop it.

    But the new restrictions brought into CDI3* and 4* dressage – whereby riders must produce a higher minimum score in the grand prix than previously to be allowed to participate in the grand prix special or freestyle at the same event – are a step too far. We all want to look after the horses as best we can and avoid any crashes or falls, but not riding a good enough dressage test – and we all have bad days – is not dangerous, it’s not life threatening or even a factor of overfacing them.

    New FEI rules tend to go through a consultation process, but were Carl Hester or Charlotte Dujardin asked for their opinion on this? No, because the powers that be seem to bring in rules like this without considering those they affect the most, which is the riders.

    “Nothing to hide”

    Despite what the protestors may argue, we’re not only in it for the money, at the expense of our horses’ welfare. Of course we want them all to live a long and healthy life and that’s why we ensure they receive the best of everything – from their stables to veterinary care, feed, love and attention.

    When my old pony died, we buried him in the field and we all stood around crying. When Arko died, we did the same and when Big Star goes, I’ll cry too. Why? Because I, as with every other top rider, love my horses.

    This is why last month’s protestors at the Aintree Grand National upset me so much. They’re in the minority, trying to make a name for themselves and picking on the horses as a way to do so.

    As Davy Russell says, the only thing I’d do to change the Grand National is move the start to the other side of the Melling Road, so there isn’t enough time to get too much speed up going to the first fence, which could, perhaps, have prevented some of this year’s falls.

    It’s very hard to explain the element of risk to non-horsey people, but it’s there in everyday life and these horses are looked after exceptionally well – racing runs a very tight ship and anyone caught abusing the rules gets a punishment.

    At my son Dan’s yard, the racehorses go on to eventing, dressage, pleasure riding – you can’t just throw them in a field as these protestors seem to suggest they should spend the rest of their days. For 2,000 years, horses have had a job to do. We don’t abuse them and racing is not abuse. We’ve nothing to hide.

    I don’t care how other people choose to live their lives, so would ask others to show similar respect to ours.

    ● Do you agree? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county for the chance to have your views published in a future issue of Horse & Hound magazine.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 4 May

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