Equine welfare: We must all work together to protect horses

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Princess Anne: “The invisible horse campaign has been an important one because it raises awareness of horses in our modern society."
Princess Anne: “The invisible horse campaign has been an important one because it raises awareness of horses in our modern society.”

A host of speakers from across the equestrian sector came together last week to discuss and debate how best to protect the ‘invisible horses’ of the future at World Horse Welfare’s Annual Conference in London. 

Each video below starts with the speakers quoted – click play to start.

Hosted at the Royal Geographical Society, the conference was opened by the charity’s President, Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, who spoke of the changes in equine care and management over the years and stressed the importance and significance of a practical approach to safeguarding welfare.

The Princess Royal also spoke of World Horse Welfare’s achievements over its 90 year history, highlighting the invisible horse concept and stressing the importance of collaboration.

“The invisible horse campaign has been an important one because it raises awareness of horses in our modern society that are not seen in the same way they would have been back in 1927.

“In those days most people would have had a pretty good idea of what horses did and how they lived, whereas now you might see them competing on the television but you probably don’t know all that much about them unless you choose to be directly involved.”

Entrepreneur, businesswoman and Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden gave her personal perspective on the ways in which horses can go from visible to invisible through their lives, how education is critical in protecting the horses of the future and how technology has a vital role in this.

“When I look forward to the future, I’ve got immense hope. We’re becoming more connected with the world than we’ve ever been and technology is a fantastic thing for education. People can’t care if they don’t know.

“I get immersed in all of these stories of rescued and rehomed horses and I wish we could make it stop and then I realise that we can. We can because we’ve got the knowledge, we’ve got the care and we’ve got the tools.”

International development scientist and vet Brian Perry OBE discussed the drivers and incentives for welfare at a global level, particularly focusing on the challenges presented by the rise in demand for equine-derived products such as donkey skins which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Professor Perry spoke of how this particular example has driven up the market value of donkeys thus resulting in thefts and illegal slaughter, and how this increased demand could place the future of the worldwide donkey population, and therefore the people who rely on them, at risk.

“In order to ensure welfare is protected through these emerging trades we have three steps to our approach. There is an opportunity to exploit these markets – improving product standards and thus welfare and health as a key component in this. We must have a ‘farm to fork’ outlook of understanding the beneficiaries at each stage of production and finally we must have incentives for product quality to be improved and welfare incorporated.”

Career digital marketer and founding partner of Apatchy London, Sam Tolhurst, presented on the many lessons being learned by business about social media and the opportunities and threats it brings for organisations like World Horse Welfare.

“The key to any successful brand, organisation or charity is building relationships. A healthy relationship involves both sides being equally interested.

“Social media is the first ever platform that really allows us to nurture such interest and traction on a vast scale and we should therefore fully embrace it as the opportunity to help the invisible horses of the future is huge.”

Animal welfare scientist and ethologist Michael Appleby OBE discussed the importance of ensuring working equids are appropriately recognised and represented at government level and the pressing need for evidence of these equids on their owners’ lives.

“The key is in balancing welfare and productivity. It could well be that increased welfare does increase productivity but we must have evidence in order to demonstrate this. We need quantitative data in order to persuade governments and policymakers that benefits to equines are benefits to the people who rely on them.”

A discussion panel chaired by Sky News Sports Editor Nick Powell and including Olympic gold medalist eventer Sir Mark Todd CBE, RCVS Vice-President Chris Tufnell, Kate Hoey MP and World Horse Welfare Chief Field Officer Claire Gordon, debated the meaning of responsible equine ownership from birth to death.

The discussion covered several areas with debate on how to improve the most pressing welfare problems facing the UK’s equine population from legislation to education.

World Horse Welfare Chief Field Officer, Claire Gordon, said: “Education and dissemination of information is the key driver of behaviour change so we need to identify why people are breeding with no purpose – then we can decide how to best deploy our resources.”

The group agreed that partnership working and collaboration are both key to tackling equine welfare issues with Gordon continuing: “No one charity has the resources to tackle all the welfare problems. I consider other equine charities as my colleagues – we work so closely together to solve the problems together.”

World Horse Welfare Chief Executive Roly Owers completed the day with a reflection on the morning’s presentations and his thoughts on the challenges facing the invisible horses of the future.

“In order to bring sustainable change for the horses of the future, we must bring practical, actionable and real-world solutions to tackling both current and emerging welfare problems. True change can only happen through engagement, understanding and constructive, open-minded dialogue.”

Owers went on to discuss the importance of recognising the diverse role of equines across the globe and finished the day with an announcement that working in partnership with the FEI, World Horse Welfare will be leading on the first ever World Horse Day which will take place on September 17, 2018.

“We invite each and every one of you to join what we hope will be a worldwide movement to celebrate all that is the horse. The more we can focus the spotlight on them, the more they will be seen and the less they will be invisible.”

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