Session 1: Interim Report from the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission

Session 1: Interim Report from the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission

The Chair of the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission Dr. Natalie Waran opened the Session, with a brief overview of the role and rationale behind the creation of the Commission, its objectives and the role of the Commission in relation to the FEI.

She then explained the importance of Social Licence to Operate (SLO) to the existence and longevity of equestrian sport. It was noted that although many sports are under similar pressure (although for different reasons) to enhance their social licence to operate, equestrian sport is unique as it involves the use of an animal that the public perceives as particularly vulnerable.

To gain baseline information regarding the current SLO situation for equestrian sport, the Commission carried out two large scale surveys: one involving the equestrian community (both ‘FEI” and ‘non FEI’ stakeholders); and the other with members of the public from 14 countries.

Some of the key points that came out from these surveys are as follows:

  • Rather than there being two sets of respondents – equestrians and public – there were two broad groupings within the equestrian group: those respondents related to the FEI and those equestrians that were not affiliated to the FEI.
  • The Public survey showed that 67% of the public respondents said that they were concerned about the involvement of horses in equestrian sport. Not only were people concerned about whether horses enjoyed being involved in sport, the public wanted to see improvements in welfare standards.
  • The concern the public has for the horse and its welfare, appears to be of more importance than other issues of social licence, such as human welfare and safety, and sustainability. 
  • 78% of the equestrian stakeholders believed that improvement in welfare standards were needed. The commission felt that this represented a positive response from the point of view of social licence – since it demonstrated that the equestrian community were not out of step with public opinion, and that they recognised the need for improvements to equine welfare standards and would be willing to accept that some positive changes are necessary.
  • The majority of equestrians have concerns regarding equine wellbeing (75% or respondents).
  • 67% of the public don’t believe horses enjoy sport most of the time, and this is also the viewpoint of 50% of the equestrian respondents.

The survey also brought up 33 common themes that the Commission then consolidated into six priority focus areas: 1) training and riding, tack & equipment; 2) Recognising physical and emotional stress; 3) Accountability, enforcement & knowledge; 4) the other 23 hours; 5) Competitive drive, the horse as a number; 6) Not fit to compete/masking health problems.

The Chair then put forward the 24 recommendations which has been arrived at based on learnings from public and equestrian surveys, from information gained through ‘in country’ independent surveys, a review of current research, consultation with experts in their field and with equestrian stakeholders. The commission also set up advisory and working groups to inform their work.   

The Chair then took delegates through the recommendations, which are future focused and centre around developing a Good Life for Horses. The recommendations are grouped into five key areas – which include measures that the FEI and the wider equestrian community can take to achieve higher standards of horse welfare through improved leadership, trust, transparency, pro-activeness and independent evaluation.

Some key points made during the discussion were as follows:

  • Communications play a key role in changing the public discourse on the good life of horses. There was also widespread agreement that this is a community effort and the FEI, National Federations, Officials and other members of the equestrian community must work together to use common language on values as a way of improving equestrian sport’s social licence to operate.
  • More work needs to be done to understand what constitutes a “good life of a horse”. The equestrian industry needs to have more robust indicators of positive emotional states in horses as the current research focuses primarily on negative welfare indicators.
  • The equestrian community needs to invest more into education, not just for the public, but also to train young riders in good horsemanship practices so that these values carry through with them through their lives.

Commission members also fielded questions on transportation issues as well as the need for more transparency and guidance on the use of tack and equipment.

See the dedicated Press Release A ‘Good Life for Horses’ opens first day of FEI Sports Forum discussions.

© FEI/R. Juilliart

About the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission
Founded in June 2022, the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission (EEWB) was created to address societal concerns related to the use of horses in sport and to provide an independent evidence based ‘framework’ to guide FEI regulations, policies and practices in relation to equine welfare and wellbeing. 
Detailed information on the composition, aims, work, and timelines of the EEWB Commission is available here.
Refer to the full Executive Summary here.

Panellists & Members of the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission:
♦ Professor Dr Nathalie Waran (NZL)
♦ Professor Dr Kathalijne Visser (NED)
♦ Dr Camie Heleski (USA)
♦ Professor Madeleine Campbell (GBR)
♦ Ms Jessica Stark (GBR)
Moderator: Ms Grania Willis (IRL)