The work of the FEI’s independent Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission (EEWB) is making a positive impact, according to a survey completed this summer of people involved with horses and horse sport. Almost 6000 equestrians responded, and nearly 64% had noticed ‘some’ or ‘more’ initiatives to improve sport horse welfare.
Further to the launch of the EEWB Commission’s additional 24 Recommendations, including the proposed vision of ‘A Good Life for Horses’, made in April to the FEI and international delegates at the Sports Forum in Lausanne, the Commission launched its second survey of equestrian stakeholders to gauge reactions to its work to date.
The survey — which was offered in English, French and Spanish — welcomed responses from anyone involved in horses.
As with the previous survey in 2022, the largest group of respondents were either local competition stakeholders (an owner, rider, groom, trainer or instructor), or leisure riders and drivers, with 43% of the respondents affiliated to the FEI and 17% of these being FEI affiliated equestrians. Dressage was the biggest interest group (34%), with show jumping (26%) the next.
Encouragingly, when asked about their views on initiatives to improve sport horse welfare over the past year, 21% reported they had seen ‘more initiatives’ and a further 45% reported having noticed ‘some initiatives’, making around 66% in total.
Given that the EEWB Commission has proposed a new vision to ensure a Good Life for Horses in Sport, respondents were asked if they thought it was possible for horses to enjoy a good life when involved in sport. 79% of all respondents definitely agreed or agreed that they can, with around 3% believing instead that this is ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ not the case. FEI respondents were more convinced, with 88% agreement, while local competition and leisure riders/owners had 77% agreement.
Asked if the 24 recommendations made by the EEWB to the FEI regarding equine ethics and wellbeing could make a real difference to horse welfare, using a scoring system from 1 (not at all) to 10 (to a great extent), 71% of respondents scored this question 6 or greater. This indicates that, if implemented, the recommendations are considered satisfactory or good in terms of progressing equine welfare in sport.
There was general support for the proposed new Equestrian Charter. The charter would require equestrians to pledge personal responsibility for horse welfare, ensuring the highest standards of equine welfare and a commitment to improve understanding of what is involved in providing a good life for horses. Almost 67% of respondents supported the charter, with a further 30% saying ‘maybe’.
Opinions were split across the six key areas identified in the 2022 equestrian survey as being of most concern, with ‘Training and riding practices, tack and equipment’ the highest concern (27%) overall. ‘Horses being treated as an object or ‘equipment’ and not as an emotional creature’ was the next highest (with 20%), and emotional and physical stress (16%) the third. There were differences between the disciplines in the level of concern shown for each key area of focus. Concern in eventing was highest regarding ‘emotional and physical stress including injuries’ (26%), although ‘enforcement and accountability’ (22%) and ‘training and riding practices, tack and equipment’ (21%) caused similar levels of concern. In dressage, the highest concern was ‘training and riding practices, tack and equipment’ (36%) and in show jumping it was’ training and riding, tack and equipment’ (26%) and ‘the horse being treated as an object and not an emotional creature’ (22%).
In addition to the feedback provided through this ‘pulse survey’, the EEWB held two webinars for stakeholders across the FEI which attracted participation from across the world. During the webinars, the Commission chair outlined the rationale for the recommendations and enabled participants to submit questions and comments to the Commission members, with many participants welcoming the direction of travel.
“While this work is very much ongoing, we are very pleased with the general levels of awareness of the EEWB’s work, and positivity about the recommendations we have proposed,” says EEWB Commission chair Professor Natalie Waran.
“We now look forward to formally handing our work over to the FEI Board so that they may consider the recommendations in more detail, and make their decisions on next steps including their plans for implementation.”
The EEWB Commission’s final report to the FEI will be delivered to the FEI Board this autumn and presented at the FEI General Assembly in Mexico in November.
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