Equestrianism can only continue if it has public support, according to World Horse Welfare’s Roly Owers. The charity’s Chief Executive argued that riders must acknowledge the views of those outside horse sport to ensure the continuation of the equestrian lifestyle.

He shared results of an independent survey into public perceptions of horse sport at a World Horse Welfare conference on Tuesday (21 June), revealing that the public “do not always trust us to protect the key stakeholder — the horse”. The survey found that one in five did not support continued involvement of horses in sport, under any circumstance, and over half felt horse welfare should be prioritised more.

The majority of those involved in the survey had little or no contact with horses, but Mr Owers revealed that people who do understand horses have similar views. Even among those surveyed who were involved with horses, 22 out of 48 only supported the continued involvement of equines in sport if welfare is improved.

“These results should sound an alarm call,” Mr Owers said. “[These opinions] do not exist only among people who do not understand horses.”

A two-way partnership

Equestrian sport presumes the relationship between a rider and a horse is a partnership, and this two-way partnership is fundamental to the future of the sport, said Mr Owers.

“Our aim has to be to make the partnership as fair as it possibly can be,” he said. “Are we challenging ourselves enough to do that? Our aim must be to reduce risk as much as possible.”

World Horse Welfare has been working with Madeleine Campbell, a senior lecturer in human-animal interactions and ethics, on an ethical framework for horse sport for equine welfare.

“My entreaty for you is to do more, faster, and to work with others [to do so],” Mr Owers addressed the conference. “We need to [understand the public] as it is there opinion that will partly determine whether horse sport has a future.

“Societies concerns are real and growing […] it is about taking control of our sports and doing the right things for the right reasons and leading on welfare. We must focus on the horse-rider partnership and how we put fairness at the centre of everything we do, so that we can continue to be completely trusted with the welfare of our horses.”

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