SOCIAL license took centre stage at the recent FEI General Assembly in Cape Town, South Africa, where one session was dedicated to the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission (EEWB).

The independent EEWB Commission was created in June 2022 to focus on ways that the FEI equestrian community can strengthen its social licence to operate in light of growing public concern related to the welfare and wellbeing of horses in sport.

“We need to reconfirm and strengthen the position of equestrian sport in modern society. And to do this, we need to have the courage to look in the mirror and accept not only what we see, but also what the general public sees, unbiased without any filters,” said FEI President Ingmar De Vos.

Chair of the commission and internationally recognised animal behaviour and welfare scientist, Professor Dr Natalie Waran, took the floor to provide delegates with a general overview of different aspects of social license to operate.

She then outlined different aspects of the Commission work, in particular the approach that is being taken to analyse the different aspects of equine welfare that can affect social license to operate in the context of the FEI’s activities, with the ultimate goal of recommending a practical course of action.

Change needed

“We are all equestrian stakeholders,” Dr. Waran said in her address to the General Assembly. “As the Commission, we will be blunt, we will be direct and we will tell you the truth. But in the end we will be here with you. There is change that needs to happen and we are here to develop a strategy, provide objective advice, make recommendations and then see how these recommendations can be put into operation.”

Dr Waran provided an initial structure of an Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Strategy to address Social License to Operate issues which is based on six main support pillars. They are Evidence: to improve credibility through being research-led; Education: promoting effective knowledge transfer to ensure optimised standards of equine well-being; Engagement: requiring transparency, through clear and timely communication; Effective Regulation: safe-guarding equine welfare especially where there may be competing agendas; Enforcement: ensuring clear understanding of the rules and effective compliance by all involved with sports horses; Empowerment: promoting a culture of personal responsibility for equine welfare and wellbeing.

There was wide spread agreement that horse welfare and strong scientific research should be the basis on which the community takes decisions regarding equine wellbeing practice.

A number of new rules were passed during the General Assembly, including one around blood eliminations in show jumping. The amended rule states the president of the ground jury, or in their absence a designated ground jury member, may ring the bell to eliminate a combination while a round is ongoing if it is decided it would be “contrary to the principles of horse welfare” to allow the combination to continue. This elimination is final and not subject to appeal.