When trying to bring about change for the betterment of horses and their jockeys, it is a brave pioneer who dares to peep above the parapet to challenge long-held beliefs and sacred traditions.
A common theme that echoed through last week’s annual conference of the International Society for Equitation Science was what Professor Jan Ladewig calls the tenacious “implementology” of research findings.
In an attempt to effect positive change, scientists must find ways to influence the influencers, to reach out to those who can benefit the most and from whom they can elicit a listening ear.
A plenary presentation during the conference in Wagga Wagga, Australia, by Dr Peta Hitchens, a research fellow in equine veterinary epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, showcased the power of a collaborative effort.
It is clear that providing and publishing findings is not enough but, a well organized alliance with all stakeholders can lead to much greater outcomes.
She described to delegates the process of successfully gathering invested parties, of understanding the needs and priorities of each, and the leadership required to drive them toward a common purpose and keep them on track.
Recently, the University of Melbourne, Racing Victoria and the Victorian State Government contributed funding to the Equine Limb Injury Prevention Program led by Professor Chris Whitton.
The project will conduct a detailed and long-term investigation into the causes, frequency and risk factors associated with horse and jockey injuries and mortality in thoroughbred racing.
It will investigate possible interventions and modifiers to enhance the safety of all involved.
Hitchens is ideally placed to collaborate with these groups, combining her expertise in epidemiological research, her experience working within the racing industry, and knowledge of government. Her unique viewpoint and skills will be invaluable in the collaborative effort.
Hitchens explained that because these bodies were financially and ideologically invested in the common goal of increased safety. They were well placed to begin implementing changes whenever scientific findings pointed out obvious risk mitigation measures.
Their work was already resulting in improvements to the education programs of veterinary residents, students, trainers and race officials.
Ongoing commitment to monitoring and further scrutiny would lead to further improvements as the collaborative effort matured.
Hitchens insisted that when collaboration was mutual to and inclusive of all those involved, there was potential for achieving a greater impact, faster progress, as well as an improved exchange of information and sharing of resources, allowing for larger projects to be tackled.
The ongoing challenge for those working in academia was to take the contents of their research and carry them through to application at a grass roots level, where it can benefit the horses and humans who motivated the study in the first place.
It was clear, she said, that good communication and empathy for the viewpoints of others was crucial in forming relationships and developing trust, smoothing the bridge between science and the implementation of change.
The themes of facilitating collaboration, communication and meaningful change rippled through the round-table conversations of delegates at the conference. From the “giants” of equitation science to the impassioned student presenters, delegates were being inspired to go forward respectfully, but persistently in the face of resistance, maintain courage in their convictions and confidence in allowing the data to guide the way.