The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

16.2.2022 Equestrianism’s Social License to Operate

“Horse sport increasingly needs a ‘social license’ to operate, meaning it must behave ethically and responsibly if it is to continue to maintain public support.” World Horse Welfare website

What is a ‘social license to operate’? Basically, it’s the support of the general public. Generally, horses in sports and leisure are very well cared for. However, as the World Horse Welfare (WHW) states on their website, “There are still too many horse welfare challenges in sport. Overbreeding, questionable training methods, use of inappropriate tack, poor course design, limited access to grazing, excessive or unnecessary whip use, pre- and post-race care and retirement are all hot areas of debate within the horse community.” If you prefer to watch or listen than to read, then here is a YouTube link to Roly Owers talking at the 2020 FEI Regional Dressage Forum about equestrianism’s social license to operate.

In his 2011 presentation to the WHW Conference on the subject of “The Importance of Welfare in Horse Sport”, Roly explained that this is a pivotal time for equestrian sports. He talks about horses and humans having worked side by side for thousands of years. As long as we give equine welfare the top priority it deserves, then it is right that this should continue. Anyone who has ridden an enthusiastic horse will know just how willing horses are to take part in riding as sport and leisure, and it’s essential that the notion that ridden work is detrimental to the horse is challenged. If no one turns up to watch the equestrian Olympics, or the racing, or the events, then horse sport will have no future. As Roly says, “The vast majority of people participating in this huge industry, from racing to the Pony Club, place welfare at forefront of their activities, but there are inevitably some bad practices.” It’s important not only that steps are taken to recognise and address bad practices, but also that these steps are communicated to the wider world. We have a responsibilty for our horses, not only to care for them whilst we are able to partner with them for sport or leisure, but also to care for or guarantee their wellbeing after their ridden career is over.

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio 2021

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