Issue 55
JUNE 2020
CELEBRATING BROCKS
THE WONDER MARE
JAYDEN BROWN
ON A MISSION
AUSSIE SCOOP
AT ROYAL WINDSOR

PLUS: HEATH RYAN’S EVENTER HIT LIST, EMMA BOOTH ON TOKYO 2021, TRAVEL TO TUSCANY, KERRY MACK’S EQUINE LIBRARY, DEVELOPING THE DRESSAGE HORSE WITH TONY UYTENDAAL, HOW HORSES SEE & MORE

AUSTRALIA`S BEST EQUINE MAGAZINE
click here to start reading

Issue 55

CONTENTS

JUNE 2020
click on left side to read the previous article
click on right side to read the next article
scroll down or click icon to read article

A few Words

FROM THE
CHAIRMAN

ROBERT MCKAY

Ryan's Rave

WHAT I LOOK FOR IN AN EVENTING HORSE

BY HEATH RYAN

Dressage

JAYDEN BROWN
ON A MISSION

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Para Equestrian

WHEN THE GOAL
POSTS CHANGE

BY EMMA BOOTH

Special feature

FROM SYDNEY
TO THE WORLD

BY DAWN GIBSON

EQ Journeys

DOING IT TOUGH
IN TUSCANY

BY JANET NORMAN

Eventing

BROCKS THE
WONDER MARE

BY AMANDA YOUNG

Showing

FROM RACECOURSE TO ROYAL WINDSOR

BY ADELE SEVERS

Special feature

A SOCIAL LICENCE FOR EQUESTRIAN SPORTS

BY EQ LIFE

Health

THROUGH A
HORSE’S EYES

BY KATE HERREN

Training

THE LITERATE
HORSE RIDER

BY DR KERRY MACK

Training

DEVELOPING
THE CORRECT DRESSAGE HORSE

BY TONY UYTENDAAL

Health

THE PRINCIPLES OF REHABILITATION

BY DR MAXINE BRAIN

Health

5 WINTER PROBLEMS

BY EQ LIFE

My Favourite Dish

CHICKEN WITH
TARRAGON & MUSHROOMS

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE
content placeholder
Previous
Next

In the age of social media, public perception of equestrian sports has never been more important. And it’s not just about keeping up appearances — in some cases we may need to rethink our approach to horse welfare.

“The animal rights
movement is growing.”

The welfare of our horses is something we think about daily. Is my horse getting the right feed? Is he too hot under his rug? Does my saddle fit correctly? The list goes on. Yes, there are people who don’t put animal welfare first — however, the majority of us want what’s best for our equine friend.

In an online era where minority voices can be loud and unfortunate moments in time shared at the click of a button, it’s becoming increasingly important for equestrian sports around the globe to think carefully about how we share the story of that special partnership between horse and human.

This was the sentiment shared by Dr Dr Roly Owers, veterinarian and Chief Executive of the charity World Horse Welfare, when he visited Australian shores earlier this year. Held at William Inglis & Sons on the eve of their Premier Yearling Sale, his seminar was brought to life by Equestrian Victoria and supported by Willinga Park, Racing Victoria and the Australian Horse Industry Council. World Horse Welfare is an independent welfare advisor to the FEI, as well as a number of other sporting bodies.

The cornerstone of Dr Owers’ presentation was the concept of a “social licence” for equestrian sport; this is unwritten and not legally binding, but rather a consensus that society allows the sport to go ahead with general approval. Dr Owers highlighted some of the challenges being faced by horse sports in terms of maintaining and improving our social licence — and how we as a collective industry can work to overcome them. However, it’s not just about how we present our sport to the public — it’s also about rethinking welfare practises to better the lives of our horses.

WHEN ‘DOING’ IS NOT ENOUGH…

We live in an increasingly urbanised world, where the general public experience a greater disconnect with farm animals and country life than ever before. As Dr Owers explains, this is partly why the general majority are ambivalent or agnostic towards the use of horses in sport. Most do not have tangible contact with horses, and therefore their experience of them is via the media…. and these days often social media. It’s these people that we need on side to maintain and improve our social licence.

The evolution of social media has meant that minorities have a voice that can be disproportionately loud. “Social media is a wonderful force for good, and not so good,” says Dr Owers. “It has transformed communication around the world and given people a voice that they did not have before, and the challenge with social media is that you can have a very loud voice but it doesn’t necessarily reflect a very large opinion and that is a real challenge.” The animal rights movement is growing; it’s now better organised and better funded. As Dr Owers explains, this voice has the ability to sway the ambivalent or agnostic general population, should the horse industry not have a more persuasive message to share. “If we lose the support of the general population, then the sector is in significant trouble.”

“You and I both know that when we ride our horses and are involved with our horses, it’s a true partnership,” says Dr Owers. “But for many people that’s exploitation. For a growing sector in society, for where we say it’s ‘used, not abuse’, they would say ‘any use is abuse’.”

“A few years ago I was on a project in South Africa; 20 minutes after the Grand National steeplechase race finished in the UK, I was asked what I thought about the two fatalities in the race that day. We very much do live in a global world.”

While we might be tempted to say “that’s racing” and argue that equestrian sports are different, Dr Owers is quick to identify that we can’t point at another discipline and say it’s their problem; the public just sees people using horses for entertainment or sport, they don’t differentiate between endurance and dressage. If something happens in one discipline, it matters to us all.

“Responsible use of
horses in sport is a
lifetime commitment.”

While Dr Owers acknowledges that it’s frustrating when the media focuses on something narrow that is not an accurate reflection of reality, he explains that it still creates public perception and therefore it is an issue that cannot be ignored. If you are doing the right thing by your horse, but the public don’t think you are, then we have a problem.

Last year’s damning ABC report on racehorses in Queensland abattoirs is an important example of what happens when an industry hasn’t intervened in time to effectively address an area of concern. Following the report, the Queensland Government conducted an independent inquiry into the management of retired racehorses in that state, including the regulatory and oversight arrangements for abattoirs and knackeries and the transport of horses to those facilities. Some would argue that while the inquiry was a step in the right direction, it could not undo the damage caused to the sport of racing by the ABC’s coverage; the horse had bolted.

Dr Owers explains that for the public, one bad thing can be enough to form an opinion. Greyhound racing and jumps racing are arguably losing the public opinion battle, and the chorus against horse racing is growing, with the ABC report reaching and swaying many who up until that point may have indeed been ambivalent or agnostic.

While equestrian sports have had their share of negative publicity over the years, they haven’t received widespread condemnation like the racing codes — and we need to keep it that way. When it comes to social media, this doesn’t mean we need to turn to mob rule and react to every single social media campaign that paints equestrian sport in a negative light, however, we need to be aware of these campaigns, learn from them, and speak up when misinformation is spread. 

In addition to managing the sport’s image, Dr Owers also explains that in some cases, we need to rethink how we tackle horse welfare.

A RETHINK ON EQUINE WELFARE 

Historically, equine welfare has been based around physical health. Our care of horses – and farm animals in general – has been guided by the Five Freedoms, which were established in 1965 in the UK by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. The Five Freedoms are freedom from thirst and hunger; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from fear and distress; and freedom to express natural behaviours. All very important aspects of horse welfare, but as Dr Owers explains, in this day and age we need to be taking more into consideration.

The majority of the Five Freedoms focus on what a horse shouldn’t put up with – rather than what they should have. “They (the Five Freedoms) have run their course,” says Dr Owers. “They are almost all about reducing negative aspects of life, but not promoting the positive.” 

Instead, Dr Owers believes we should be looking at the Five Domains: nutrition, health, environment, behaviour… and how they all link back to and impact mental state. It’s about providing positive experiences, rather than just looking to eliminate the negative. A horse’s mental health should be considered alongside physical health.

Animal welfare expert Professor David Mellor once said, “…the overall objective is to provide opportunities for animals to thrive, not simply survive”, and Dr Owers believes this notion is something we should all keep in mind when caring for our horses.

Breeding practices
Dr Owers explains that welfare starts with breeding, and careful consideration needs to be given around the market for the numbers being bred. Although this is where racing comes under scrutiny, it is still the case across all breeds. We must also be cautious not to create the same issue as dog breeders, where welfare is compromised to breed genetic freaks; while it’s not a widespread issue yet, Dr Owers believes the horse industry could be in danger of it.

Husbandry practices
Freedom, forage and friends have all proven to have an impact on a horse’s health and mental wellbeing; in the wild, horses graze for up to 17 hours per day and live in a herd. However, there are many domestic horses that are considered to be well cared for, who don’t necessarily have open access to these three F’s. Stable and yard confinement, reduced access to pasture and keeping horses in individual enclosures all have impact, and Dr Owers explains that we need to begin to rethink how horses are kept.

“We’re always learning and evolving what we should be doing – the horse world is quite conservative and we need to be more open minded. Just because we’ve done something for decades, doesn’t make it right,” says Dr Owers.

Training practices
In the sport horse sector, training is of course important. Just as we need to focus on the horse’s positive experiences (rather than just the elimination of negative ones), we also need to consider rethinking training practices where a correct response is rewarded by the removal of a negative aid, rather than being encouraged by positive reinforcement.

Dr Owers does not assert that applying pressure and releasing for a correct response is cruel or even incorrect; he merely raises the idea that there are other ways to train in some instances. For example, clicker training has been successfully used with horses by a number of trainers — could it be used more widely?

Dr Owers touched on tight nosebands, explaining that while it’s important not to have a noseband done up too tightly it’s not the main issue. “Real pressure points are around a horse’s poll and cheeks where the major nerve supply is. Yes, the noseband is important, but the focus should be around bridle fit, not just noseband fit. We talk a lot about saddle fit but not enough about bridle fit.”

And what about the use of bits? Well, as Dr Owers explains, it’s not a one size fits all answer; horses are different and suit different equipment. He doesn’t believe bitless bridles are necessary good or bad; like other bridles, they can still be fitted incorrectly! They are simply a different option that might suit some horses.

Lifetime tracing and end of life experiences
There has been much said on the importance of having a national traceability register for all horses in Australia. Responsible use of horses in sport is a lifetime commitment; in the public eye, it’s a case of “once a racehorse always a racehorse” and the same can be said for horses in the equestrian sector. Dr Owers believes that equine ID is fundamental to protect health and welfare as it’s the only way to make people accountable and ensure that horses are looked after throughout each phase of their life, from elite competition, to amateur competition, pleasure riding, work as a therapy animal or companion, and their end of life experience.

That final phase is one that Dr Owers identifies as a big welfare issue. He explains that horses are quite unique in that they can fulfil multiple roles in their lifetime, from those mentioned above, to even slaughter for food at the end of the line. Dr Owers is not against slaughter, providing it is done in a humane manner at every step along the way. He is very clear that quality of life needs to come ahead of quantity of life, and we need to make sure that at each point new owners have the competence to look after the animal and we’re not “getting rid of the problem” to a new owner. It’s about taking responsibility.

Making an end of life decision and facilitating a “good death” is part of our responsibility as horse owners and it’s something we need to consider early on, not at the last minute when it becomes absolutely necessary — as this is more likely to lead to an unpleasant death. A horse’s end of life experience is not an easy topic to think about, however, as a responsible horse owner it’s something that cannot be ignored.

WE ALL HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY

Everyone involved in equestrian sports has a role to play in equine welfare and subsequently the sport’s “social licence”.

Dr Owers believes that it begins with more research: we need a better understanding of how to improve horse welfare, and also the public perception of our sport. Improving horse welfare means looking at practices that have become ingrained over time, and through research determining whether or not there is a better way. Furthermore, if we better understand what the public thinks, it lets us tell the story of our partnership with horses in a more effective way. The use of ambassadors — role models in the sport — is an important place to start, however, the buck doesn’t stop with them… we all have a role to play.

Horse sports need public support to have a future, and that public support is very dependent on the welfare of the horse being put first, and being seen to be put first. While many of us genuinely feel that our horses love being ridden, this feeling — while quite possibly true — is often based on arbitrary anecdotes rather than sound scientific justification. We know that our horses generally like being around us and enjoy their role, however, we need to better understand the true benefits of horse sports to horses — and how we can communicate that message to the world. EQ

Watch Dr Owers’ complete seminar here, courtesy of Equestrian Victoria.

Enter your name and email to view the content.



* By providing your email via this form, you agree to receiving emails from Equestrian Life. You can unsubscribe at any time.