Tag Archives: world horse welfare

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Richard Davison: Welfare in top level Equestrian Sport

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Part 1: What do our horses really want? 

 

When the words “Equine Welfare” are used, associated with animal cruelty, to me it conjures up images of emaciated, lice-infested horses and ponies. Yet at the recent World Horse Welfare Annual Conference, a number of other “modern” welfare issues were highlighted. Olympic Dressage Rider Richard Davison has been at the top of the sport for many years, having contested four Olympics. He was a founder of the Burghley Young Event Horse series and his yard is made up of dressage horses and his son’s international showjumpers. Therefore he is highly regarded both as a great horseman and spokesperson on Equestrian matters, who is not frightened of sticking his neck out.  At the Conference last week, Richard spoke candidly on the welfare issues seen even at the highest level of Equestrian Sport.

 

In our first blog, Richard raises his concerns over the modern fashion of “humanising” our horses, relaying one example he saw at a show recently.

 

“For those of you have visited international competitions, you will know that horses are confined in relatively small stables for four to five days. I was in Denmark last week and I watched a groom perform surgery on a teddy bear (used as a stable toy) who had lost a limb. The process of sewing up the teddy took half an hour or more. I wondered whether this half an hour would have been better spent, taking the horse out of the stable and giving it a walk in the sunlight or finding some grass for a graze and a stretch. For me, this “humanising” behaviour displayed by owners can skewer the priorities.

 

In my world (Dressage), they’ve all got the bling browbands, the matchy-matchy stuff, and the belly-deep shavings beds but actually what does a horse really want? What is really important, is to get out in the field, not to be kept in a stable, never mind how beautifully decorated it is with toys or anything else. They really want to be outside, stretching their back, being with their mates, sniffing each other’s bottoms and rolling in the mud. Thankfully is not generally something that us humans do, any longer. So I put this to riders and grooms- ditch the teddy bear and take the horse out of the stable and give them fresh air. That is what they really want- to be horses.

 

We are all stakeholders in this. We all feed off equestrian sport, either professionally or just gaining an awful lot of enjoyment from it. We all need to get behind education and spend more time, learning how horses really function. In these days in horse sport, where horses command huge sums of money we must never forget that their natural habits and herd instinct are really essential for both mental and physical welfare.”

 

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Changing times. World Horse Welfare Annual Conference

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Last week, Horse Scout’s Ellie Kelly was in attendance at the World Horse Welfare Annual Conference in London. It is an exclusive event attended by leading figures in the world of veterinary medicine, equestrian sport, horse racing, politics, and animal welfare as well as HRH Princess Anne. The theme of the conference this year was Changing Times. Essentially how change- both good and bad, is continuing at a meteoric rate and what the future for equine welfare might hold.

 

The day was opened by Michael Baines, Chairman of the World Horse Welfare who had recently visited some of their projects in Cape Town and Lesotho which are jointly run with several other charities based in these parts of the world as well as other international animal charities like The Brooke and The Donkey Sanctuary. “I saw firsthand how important it is to take a holistic approach to equine welfare and, to be prepared to work with multiple stakeholders to achieve the best results,”  said Michael.

 

Perhaps this is a lesson we can all take away generally when striving to improve not only our horses lives but also our own livelihoods and interests in the equestrian sphere. As equestrian sport, recreational riding and general horsemanship evolves and improves in some areas but declines and is devalued in others. The advent and reliance on social media for information and as a marketplace is both a vice and a virtue.

 

Utam Kaphle, a young professional from Nepal, spoke on the innovative work being done by Animal Nepal. As Executive Director of the charity, he has spearheaded projects to improve animal welfare in the country by working with the local communities. With the help of government institutions, Animal Nepal has helped the lives, health and education of poverty-stricken communities as well as their working animals and the large number of strays which can spread disease.

 

Four-time Olympic Dressage rider Richard Davison then gave some compelling arguments on what was wrong and right in the sport horse industry. “When we riders, in our quest for success and our competitive side gets the better of our horsemanship.” Rollkur, hyperflexion and nose pressure was a recurrent theme and he expressed the importance of more clarity in the rulebook and more scientific evidence to prove the effects of a tight noseband- more on this in our next blog.

 

The future of Gypsy Cobs was addressed by Andrea Betteridge, founder of the Traditional Gypsy Cob Association. Andrea has spent decades obtaining and recording historic information and collecting DNA from different herds to prove the heritage of the breed and its historic bloodlines. This formed the foundation for recognition of the breed by British and European governments with member registrations from over 35 countries and the authentic breed database recognised all over the world. Overbreeding has led to the “dumping” of cobs, which the so often become welfare cases. As well as establishing the breed and educating would be breeders on the implications, Andrea has prompted other initiatives such as specialised showing classes and  “Give a Cob a Job”.

 

Tim Collins, a former Tory MP talked about the perceived implications which Brexit will have on the equine world as well as the enthusiastic following and power that animal charities had at the present time. At this stage in political proceedings, no one really knows what will occur after Brexit. Although he highlighted the reality that nothing will happen quickly as it will take years for the UK to fully leave the EU. “The average time it takes to even join the EU takes a decade and for Estonia, it was 20 years,” he said, with a further warning. “Therefore the issues you care about in the horse world are going to carry on but you must not take our eye off the ball and assume that this is all going to be carried out in the next few months. There is nothing as long as the temporary arrangement. We may have to live with this for a very long time so don’t assume any arrangements can be fixed later. Bear in mind how immensely powerful those of you who care and campaign about animal welfare actually are. For example, the inflection point in the 2017 General election was when the Conservatives got on the wrong side of animal welfare on the ivory trade and fox-hunting and that lesson has been learned deeply in both the party main headquarters. One of the biggest issues amongst the young population is animal welfare, so you guys can be pushing on an open door.”

 

The next topic covered was how charities and win trust and broaden their horizons. This came from Joe Saxton who featured in the top ten of the most influential people in UK fundraising. He is also the founder of a research consultancy for charities called nfpSynergy. The main pointy to take away was that support for animal charities is well up the national order, featuring higher than charities concerning homelessness, social welfare, overseas aid, religious and environment and conservation. So we Brits remain, “a nation of animal lovers”.

 

The day was rounded off with a discussion panel between influential veterinary delegates who covered topics such as changes in culture, technology and the internet and social media- friend or foe to both horse owners and vets. Overweight riders and horses were also commented on as this is a welfare issue we all see too often at shows around the country.

 

The use of artificial aids was also addressed, where Gemma Pearson highlighted horses “limited learning capacity”. She explains: “the spur and whip refine our instructions further so we can be more precise about what we are asking. But what we need to move away from was using the whip and spur for punishment as that is what creates problems”.

 

The Chief Executive Roly Owers summed up the conference: “When we talk about making change we have to base it around common sense, around experience and around the evidence. The second point is the issue of value. The value of our reputation, the value of time, the value of trust and the value of horses.”

 

If you would like to watch the Conference in full as well as discussions from previous years, click on the link:

http://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/conference

 

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EMILY KING

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EMILY KING

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Horse Scout advocate Emily King must be on cloud nine at the moment. The 22 year old is on winning form after claiming the Under 25 title at Bramham, has an exciting string of horses, a hot boyfriend who she is just about to move in with. And with 56,200 followers on Instagram, you could say she is pretty popular. Popular enough for her supporters to put their money where their mouth is too. After setting up a crowd-funding campaign to keep the ride on a promising young horse, some 556 people donated to reach the £40,000 required to buy him from his owner.

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This month, Emily beat off strong opposition to win the British Horse Feeds Under 25 CCI3* at Equi-Trek Bramham Horse Trials, making her the National Champion at this level. Outstandinglym, she finished on her dressage score of 25.5 with Dargun, a horse by Valiant she has produced from a youngster for owner Jane Del Missier. The pressure was on when she went into the showjumping as after second-placed Thibault Fournier from France had jumped clear, Emily and the 10 year old Dargun could not afford a pole. The crowd gasped when the pair rattled the first fence but it stayed in place and they kept their cool to complete a fabulous clear and the only rider to finish on their dressage score. Her boyfriend Sam Ecroyd joined her on the podium with a third place on Master Douglas.

 

Speaking after her round Emily about her horse “He felt amazing today! When I got on him in the warm-up, he was bucking and squealing- it helps him with his spring and attention if he’s a bit jolly. The crowd helps him rather than distracting him and the fences were quite spooky, which helps too.”

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Emily has been living at home in Sidmouth, Devon with her family all her life. She has always shared a yard with her mother, Mary King- one of the greatest event riders of all time. But this summer she will be making “the big leap” to move to Cheshire to share a yard with her boyfriend, who also events internationally and already runs an equestrian business up there.

 

Her relocation was one of the reasons the previous owner of Langford Take the Biscuit had to sell the six year old gelding, which prompted Emily’s crowdfunding campaign. All those who donated will be invited to watch “Hobby” compete, to yard-visits and also to join her on course walks. So it’s a great initiative for people who would love to be involved in a horse but do not have the money to own one. Furthermore, Emily has pledged to donate all of the horse’s future prize money to charity, the chosen one being World Horse Welfare.

Written by Ellie Kelly

Images by William Carey and Tim Wilkinson