Societal Perception Of Horses In Sport Must Be Addressed, Says Equine Charity CEO

Roly Owers of the World Horse Welfare recommends that the equestrian community be cognizant of how the public views the use of horses in equestrian sport, reports HorseTalk. Addressing the Fédération Equestre Internationale  (FEI) General Assembly, Owers recommended that equestrian sport pursue a social license, which is an unwritten, non-binding contract that means society gives horse sport the right to operate. Owers said that this would build societal trust that horse sport can operate in a transparent and ethical manner.

Owers points out that there is a small contingent of animal rights groups that believes that using the horse for any profit or entertainment is unacceptable. Animal rights groups are transposing animal welfare issues with animal rights issues; animal welfare is about improving the treatment of animals, not banning their interactions with humans.

Owers suggests that the concept of a social license places the focus on making correct ethical choices, shifting the focus from negative to positive. Hanfried Haring, president of the European Equestrian Federation, noted in a meeting in Gothenburg that horse racing in particular has been under scrutiny in the last decade, with society becoming more adamant that equine deaths from racing should no long be accepted as byproduct of the sport.

Additionally, the use of whips to encourage horses in a race has also come to society’s attention, with some countries enacting whip-use limits, he said. The use of a whip in racing is often a perception issue more than a welfare issue, he notes, but it is still important to recognize that society has an issue with its use.

The FEI Code of Conduct, which was co-written with World Horse Welfare, clearly states that the welfare of the horse is paramount. Owers believes very strongly that to ignore public perception is dangerous; entering into a social contract allows the equine community to act first instead of after an issue has arisen. He suggests that ways the equine world can enter into a social contract could include:

  • Actively engage and show the good welfare practices already in place
  • Ensure that everyone in the federation understands that they must be transparent and honest; they must act quickly to remove anything negative associated with equine sport
  • Clearly articulate the true relevance of horse sport and the equine industry to society at large
  • Highlight the horse/human bond in competition

Horses are not only for the elite and the equine industry employs millions of people worldwide, which needs to be repeatedly conveyed to society as a whole.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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