Spotlight on Inappropriate Horse Training at Home

28 April 2024

On 15 April the European Equestrian Federation (EEF) held a panel discussion attended by World Horse Welfare, the Swedish and German national federations and international groom Jackie Potts, to discuss how to protect horses away from competition, namely those being trained at home, or at competition or livery yards.

The discussion followed the FEI’s independent equine ethics and wellbeing commission’s (EEWC) ongoing work, and an EEF and World Horse Welfare “at-home horse welfare” survey carried out this year after “several examples of poor horse welfare in a training environment” had been exposed. The survey assessed the “current landscape, attitudes and opinions within the industry, and whether these issues are widespread”.

More than 9,600 people responded including riders, owners, breeders, grooms and fans. More than 50% of respondents were “often” or “always” concerned about horse welfare at home, in a training environment, and 47% stated they had been asked to carry out training they felt went against good welfare. Of the respondents, 90% had witnessed training behaviours they believed compromised horse welfare, and of those, 58.2% had seen this in the past six months. When asked what might drive people towards poor training methods, the common themes were money, competition pressures, lack of education and ingrained culture.

Reasons for not speaking up included risk to reputation or employment and fear of not being listened to or being excluded. The survey found that 60% of people did not know who to contact to report a welfare concern – and it also showed that welfare issues “exist from the grassroots level up and are not just a concern involving international athletes”.

EEF president Theo Ploegmakers opened the discussion by asking: “What exactly does it take to protect our horses effectively?”

“As we have seen, rules and regulations alone are not enough. When stakeholders fail to prioritise the welfare of horses, they not only tarnish their own reputation but undermine the integrity of equestrianism,” he said. “We must cultivate a culture of respect and empathy towards horses, even in the confines of our homes. Every action and interaction shapes the perception of our sport.”

Jackie Potts, who co-founded the International Grooms Association (IGA), discussed difficulties facing grooms, particularly younger grooms, who witness horses mistreated at home and are concerned about reporting owing to fears about the reaction from the rider, or the impact on their job.

“Ultimately we do this job because we love the horses. When you’re in that situation, where do you turn to and who do you contact? I think it would be very brave of a young groom to go to their national federation,” she said. “I think that’s something for discussion, to see where we could have an outlet for grooms to air their concerns.”

“It’s very difficult to collect evidence, especially if an incident does not happen at an event, in public. Witnesses are often reluctant to make themselves available, and sometimes complaints are anonymous,” she said.

“Another aspect you can deduct from the survey results is that a lot of people think that it’s solely the federation’s obligation to investigate and intervene. They think they’ve made their complaint and job done – and they overestimate our powers. We do not have an army of private investigators, we cannot just show up and search a premises, and we cannot force a witness to make a statement.

“To try cases the federations need the support of the equestrian community; an anonymous complaint is not enough. Fighting violations is a task for all of us and we need to tackle it together.”

Dr Winter said that ideally a complainant will provide picture or video evidence – but added that “this doesn’t take you all the way”.

“It can be surprisingly hard to connect an injury or suspicious movement sequence to a specific violation, by a specific person. And to impose a sanction we need both,” she said, adding that even with video, if there is only a short clip, this might not be enough to prove a horse is suffering.

The panel agreed that there is a “collective responsibility” to report welfare concerns – and this needs to start at yard and club level.

World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers discussed the need for clear reporting systems and education on where people can report issues to.

“At yard level there should be a clear culture and code of conduct and way of reporting something – and then building that up. Dealing with the extremes [cases] is relatively easy, but it’s dealing with those day-to-day practices that people know are unacceptable, but they walk by for any number of reasons.” he said.

“Clearly this is the start of a conversation and not the end; the sharing of good practice is really important, and empowering people to have the confidence to call out bad practice. It’s incumbent on the organisations, federations, and the FEI to create a framework where reporting those kinds of issues is possible and there’s a clear structure for doing that.”

Our Partners


Sign up to receive our latest news and product updates.

© 2024 Livery List

Website by Yello