An extensive scientific study that examines key priorities regarding sport horse welfare has been conducted by the Sporthorse Welfare Foundation (SWF).
The research has resulted in experts calling for more education and research to support riders, trainers and federations. A welfare charter and approved guidelines has also been recommended to not only ensure the well-being of sports horse,m but to also safeguard the future of equestrian sports.
Experts involved in international and national horse sports across a range of Olympic disciplines were consulted (using the Delphi technique) in a study that took into consideration the views of 104 active equestrian professionals, spanning 24 different countries.
The panel agreed that the following aspects of equine management were essential in maintaining horse health and welfare:
- Training management
- Competition management
- Young horse management
- Health status and veterinary management
- Horse-human relations
However, the study failed to reach a consensus on the matter of stable and environmental management, and welfare assessment as fundamental priorities. The majority of participants were of the opinion that these aspects were already being well managed within the international horse community.
On the back of this first tranche of research, the experts involved have called for improved education and research and a dedicated welfare charter to inform those involved in equestrian management practices. It was also agreed that a universally agreed set of guidelines would also help to establish a social license to operate (SLO) for anyone involved in equestrianism.
The Sporthorse Welfare Foundation’s next steps will be to evaluate the opinions of other (non-elite) equestrians and the wider public on the results to date to identify and prioritise areas for further investigation.
SWF will collate evidence to understand what practices/management are being implemented across different countries, disciplines, competitions, and individuals. By increased monitoring, record keeping, and research, good practice can be identified and showcased to the wider equestrian communities and the public to establish a culture in which the quality of life for sport horses is always the priority.
Finally, the SWF intends to work with national and international federations to provide targeted education and guidance, policy development, and regulation to improve the management of sport horse health and the understanding of best welfare practices.
Commenting on the study, equine scientist Dr David Marlin said:
“This research is an important milestone for international equine welfare, providing an essential building block in the journey towards agreeing a universally accepted code of practice to ensure the health and wellbeing of horses all over the world. We look forward to sharing the next stage of research and moving closer to achieving our goal of establishing a benchmark for welfare excellence across all equestrian disciplines.”