The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992 What Is The Future Of Horse Sport?

“Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride, friendship without envy, or beauty without vanity? Here where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined” from the Ode to the Horse by Ronald Duncan, created for Horse of the Year Show.

Horse sport is, of course, a controversial subject. There is a continuum of beliefs from not riding horses at all, to competing at the Olympics, and you can find people who sit at each level of this continuum. Personally, I enjoy riding, and I believe that we can ride horses with their welfare at heart. I also believe that we can compete with the welfare of the horse as the top priority.

On the other hand, there are many cases where it is clear that the horse’s well being does not come first. To be honest, this happens as much (if not more) outside of the competitive world as it does within it.

The recent (and ongoing) discussion around the changes to Modern Pentathlon has brought the social licence of horses in sport to the forefront.

Roly Owers, CEO of World Horse Welfare, states in this article “There are two key parts of social licence; doing right by our horses and being seen to do right by them. In the second part, if you talk to anyone about horse sports at the Tokyo Games, the vast majority would hone straight in on the pentathlon; it shows that as far as the public is concerned, it doesn’t matter if it’s polo, racing, pentathlon; it’s all horse sport.

People often think, ‘My discipline is fine, it’s that one that’s the problem,’ but every discipline has room to improve, and as far as the public is concerned, there’s no difference. It’s all horse sport to them, and this is a very timely reminder of that. It doesn’t matter if something happens in any discipline and it doesn’t matter where; it affects us all.”

This issue was discussed by veterinarian Jane Nixon at the Society of Master Saddlers Conference in November of this year. Jane’s presentation opened my eyes to an issue which I hadn’t thought of as being present or relevant. I love horses, and they have always been a part of my life. I can’t imagine having that opportunity taken away from me. I think it’s time for us all to sit up and think about the image that we, as a sport, are projecting to the non-horse world. For the good of the horse, and for the good of our relationship with them and theirs with us, we must take notice of social licence. Not only must we do right by our horses, but we must be seen by others to be doing so.

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021

Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion

December 31, 2021
Sue Palmer