Unannounced Yard Inspections: Ideas Put Forward to Boost Confidence in Equestrianism

18 June 2024

Unannounced yard inspections and cameras in warm up arenas were among suggestions to boost public confidence in horse sport, as a panel of experts discussed acceptance of horses in sport, after the most recent survey on the public’s opinion of it

The discussions took place at a conference hosted by World Horse Welfare on 12 June, sharing the results of the charity’s most recent survey of perception of the industry. Following on from similar surveys carried out in 2022 and 2023. This year’s results showed that public opinion has not changed significantly: 20% still do not support involvement of horses in sport, 41% only support it if welfare improves and 56% said there should be more safety and welfare measures. But there were positives.

“Public confidence is slowly growing, based on what people see and hear in the media,” World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers said. “It’s a small change over three years but it appears to be growing steadily.”

The survey looked at where people get information on horse sport from, and who influences them. It found that television and newspapers are the most common sources. Whilst a large focus of these surveys were the racing industry, other equestrian sports such as the multi discipline Olympics and eventing were also under the spotlight. It is important to remember that equestrian sports, event at grassroots level, have high coverage on social media platforms and this is often linked to where the horses are kept, and how they are trained and treated ‘at home’.

“What influences trust in horse sport to protect welfare?” Mr Owers asked. “It’s not so much what regulators say and do, but what those involved in the sport say and do.”

Recent welfare initiatives such as the British Equestrian charter for the horse, and racing’s HorsePWR campaign were also discussed.

Johan Fyrberg, Swedish federation secretary general, said he believes it would be helpful to have the right for authorities to access yards. Mr Luck said this is an interesting point, and that he believes there is most confidence in racehorses’ wellbeing when they are at licensed yards, as these are assessed and can be inspected.

“Beyond the time they’re at those yards, we’re getting better but that’s when you worry,” he said. “Where you’re licensed and regulated, you feel more confident the horses are safer.”

Equine vet and behaviour specialist Gemma Pearson, who is also a racecourse vet, agreed that authorities’ right to access yards at any time is key.

“That’s transparency, which is a major aspect of social licence,” she said. “I think it would be nice to be proactive and say any rider is open to someone from a federation coming to see the horses. And I think we could take it further.” Dr Pearson said there is mistrust about what happens behind closed doors and suggested cameras in warmups so any concerns could be seen in detail rather than pictures shared of a moment that does not look good, but does not reflect the reality.

“The more transparent we can be, the better,” she said. “Everyone has a camera so we should always interact with horses in a way we’d be happy to be filmed and go public.”

These statements, albeit in relation to racing, do continue the discussion about the need for licensed premises housing equines to improve their safety and welfare,as has been highlighted in other recent welfare reports such as Britain’s Horse Problem report from December 2020.


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