Ethical challenges of equestrian sport tackled head-on in new framework

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An ethical framework for use of horses in sport has been unveiled, in "a pivotal step forward" to help equestrian sport make decisions affecting horse welfare.
An ethical framework for use of horses in sport has been unveiled, in “a pivotal step forward” to help equestrian sport make decisions affecting horse welfare. © World Horse Welfare

The equestrian world has taken “a pivotal step” toward the creation of a transparent method of approaching ethical issues across all equestrian disciplines.

The media spotlight is increasingly shining on horse welfare in sport, such as racing and modern pentathlon, and equestrian sport is similarly recognising that ethical concerns need to be addressed to maintain public acceptance – their social licence to operate.

This has led to the unveiling of “Ethical Framework for the Use of Horses in Sport” developed by the Royal Veterinary College and funded by international charity World Horse Welfare. It was unveiled at a workshop last month attended by more than 90 representatives from across horse sport disciplines including dressage/para-dressage, racing, showjumping, eventing, endurance as well as horse sport regulators.

The workshop explored what was considered the predominant ethical challenges in each equestrian discipline; where and how the framework could be most usefully applied to address the issue and what incentives or barriers there may be to the adoption and use of the framework.

Several current ethical challenges in equestrian sport were identified, such as fatalities and catastrophic injuries; care and management of equine athletes before, during and after their competition careers; rider/driver weight and competence and the use of equipment including whips, spurs, bitted bridles and nosebands.

All participants recognised that public concerns need to be addressed if social licence is to be maintained, but that there is a real need for a transfer of knowledge between the equestrian world and the non-equestrian public, who may not understand the full implications of some aspects of equestrianism (such as the purpose of carrying a whip and its role in the safety of horse and rider).

World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers said the next challenge would be adapting the framework to become an accessible and easily applied go-to tool consistently across equine sport.

“We hope this framework will be a pivotal step forward to help equestrian sport make decisions affecting horse welfare that are underpinned by an ethical basis. Having a consistent, logical approach to making ethical decisions will help to make better decisions, and make it easier to communicate them to the sport and the public.”

• How best to protect horse welfare will be under discussion at the charity’s annual conference “Whose opinion matters?” on November 11 in London, featuring a range of influential speakers from around the world, including the charity’s President Princess Anne, The Princess Royal. The conference will be available to watch live here.

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