A group of elite equestrian scientists is launching an international initiative designed to establish best practice and clear guidance in the training and management of sport horses. The Sport-horse Welfare Foundation (SWF) is bringing together equine professionals spanning 32 countries, all of which are involved in professionally developed equestrian sports.The aim of this project is to provide the equestrian world with a solid foundation about the good welfare needs of sport horses in particular.
Sport horses will benefit
A group of leading scientists around the world have come to the conclusion that in order to sustainably protect the welfare of sport horses, it is essential to determine what sport horses need to reach a good level of welfare. They founded the Sport-horse Welfare Foundation (SWF) to look into that question. Commenting on the launch, Dr. Jane Williams, Head of Research, Associate Professor at Hartpury University UK, says, “Our objective is to collaborate with the best in the field to determine the ultimate ethical training and welfare blueprint for sport horses, primarily to safeguard the animals involved but also to protect and enhance the reputation of equestrian sports. Current scientific evidence pertaining to the welfare of sport horses is very limited because we are dealing with animals, who, of course, are unable to verbally communicate how they feel. There are, however, a huge number of equestrian professionals around the world – riders, grooms, trainers, veterinarians, scientists, farriers, owners and more – who share a wealth of experience and knowledge on this subject. We want to access and review their expertise and distil these recommendations to create an internationally approved shared agreement on best practice.”
At a time when equestrian sport is increasingly under the spotlight and the welfare of competitive sport horses is being regularly scrutinised, the SWF’s founding principle is to create a common ground between opponents of equestrian sports who have expressed concern regarding the wellbeing of the horses involved and the equestrians competing in the field, who recognise that optimum performance can only be achieved when a horse is healthy and happy. Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, explains further: “There is an urgent need for more evidence to explain or improve how the welfare of sport horses is protected in their daily management and training, so the work of the Foundation is highly relevant. All of horse sport and indeed other horse owners will be able to benefit from the new information and data the Foundation generates, which will allow them to make informed decisions to ensure they are truly putting the welfare of the horse first. They would also have the objective evidence to prove this and communicate this to the public, and so help maintain the horse sector’s social licence to operate.”
Unique study design
Over 150 highly experienced equestrian professionals from 32 countries and equine scientists will unite in this unique and pioneering collaboration. The group contains experts from the different disciplines like dressage and eventing and different kind of professionals from multiple fields. By combining the views of scientists, practitioners and competitors, it is hoped that a clear framework of guidance can be agreed upon. One of the founders Prof. Dr. Lars Roepstroff explains. “The goal is they come to a consensus on sport horses’ needs to feel good. That statement will form the foundation of the discussion about equestrian sports. It helps opponents to better place what they see in equestrian sport, but it would also offer equestrians tools to take better care of their horses. In the end, the horses in equestrian sports will benefit.”
The SWF is a not-for-profit member organization founded by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Jane Williams (UK), Dr. Carolien Munsters (NL), Dr. David Marlin (UK) and Prof. Dr. Michael Weishaupt (CH). For the complete list of founding members, please refer to the website – www.sporthorsewelfarefoundation.com. The SWF has already secured the support of the European Equestrian Federation and the national federations of Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland; the Sport Horse Research Foundation; World Horse Welfare and Hartpury University. President of the EEF, Theo Ploegmakers, a collaborating partner of SWF, said; “We are delighted to be working on this project with the Sport horse Welfare Foundation. Promoting horse welfare is pivotal to our purpose but to date, there is no consensus on what horse welfare means and the standards that are expected. The eminent researchers involved in this initiative are at the forefront of equine science and are therefore best placed to make certain that the measures we take are backed by science and proven to improve the environment and experience for our elite equine athletes.”
The Foundation will be employing the Delphi-design method in its mission to collate opinions to reach a consensus position, with the scale of this study representing an industry first. Consensus provides scientists and practitioners with a solid foundation based on the knowledge and experience of experts in the field.
The project commenced in early 2022 and preliminary results are expected at the end of August which will be presented at EEF’s international meeting in September 2022. For more detailed information please visit www.sporthorsewelfarefoundation.com.
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