An event rider has spoken out about the importance of protecting the interests of the horse and exploring the best practices to enhance welfare.

Matt Brown US five-star eventer discussed the issue at the World Horse Welfare Conference, in a speech entitled ‘We all need to do better’.

He said the topic is one he reflects on every day, while riding and teaching, and believes it is something all riders should think about and discuss, to improve equine welfare and promote the image of the sport.

“We have to accept that society already has a very fragile relationship with the use of horses in sport,” he said.

“Things that used to be common practice are really not acceptable any more. Instead of trying to defend some of those methods we need to do better for the horses and we need to be willing to call out bad behaviour when we see it.”

Matt said he got into the sport because of his love for horses, but his training exposed him to forceful practices.

“I was taught to dominate or the horse will walk all over you,” he said. “I heard so many times, ‘Don’t let the horse win’. Pretty quickly I became tired of being the enforcer. Once competitions were added into the mix it became a recipe for disaster. It was a bad combination.”

As a top rider, Matt has experienced the highs and lows of equestrian sport, but that competing at this level brings the responsibility to make choices which could jeopardise horse welfare.

“We can very easily feel like were stuck between two options – dominate or don’t use force and let horse walk all over you, or in competition, be competitive or value the horse and sacrifice your ability to be competitive.”

Matt admitted he doesn’t get it right all the time, but at the end of each day he reflects on his behaviour and considers the following: Did I help horse become more happy and confident? If I was frustrated, did I stop myself and rethink rather than taking it out on horse? Did I let the pressure of this job, an upcoming competition or owners control how I worked with a horse that day?

“Continuing to practice harsher training methods doesn’t make us villains – none of us are perfect and those who make mistakes shouldn’t be strung up in the public square – but by bringing this discussion out of the shadows and into light we can seek better ways to evolve as horse people,” he said. “Our horses deserve better and continuation of the sports we love so much are dependent on that.”

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