Welfare Group: FEI 'On the Right Track' in Addressing Welfare Issues

Welfare Group: FEI 'On the Right Track' in Addressing Welfare Issues

Owers praised the FEI's welfare efforts in evolving in a social media heavy world. A major social media "storm" erupted when Jerich Parzival (seen here) was eliminated from the 2010 WEG due to blood in his mouth from a small cut on his tongue.

Photo: Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)

The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) is on the right track in addressing key welfare issues in equine sport in a context of growing public concern for animal well-being and an evolving global climate, according to the chief executive of an international horse welfare association.

Speaking at the FEI annual General Assembly Nov. 8 in Istanbul, Turkey, Roly Owers, MRCVS, of World Horse Welfare (WHW) praised the FEI's welfare efforts in an evolving world which has become more critical, in part because of social media.

"Clearly how horses are treated, and how they're perceived to be treated, matters to the public," Owers said. "It is obviously right that the public should care about horse welfare in sport, but ... in this social media age, the voice of vocal minorities can damage the reputation of the sport." As examples he cited the online "storms" surrounding the "blood rule" issue and debates about nose bands.

"And you all know that the animal rights group PETA is now suing the owners and trainer of Totilas in Germany," he added. "Whatever we feel about the merits of this case, this is a sign of the times. And there will be more to come."

The FEI's major recent steps towards Clean Sport are commendable, particularly in this context, Owers said. By staying ahead of welfare issues, the federation is able to set the standard for welfare conditions that not only protect the horses but also reduce the risk of public outcry against the sport.

"The first clean Olympic Games in recent times is a superb outcome (of that)," he said, echoing a similar sentiment by Lord Stevens, chair of the FEI Ethics Panel, during his presentation at the FEI General Assembly earlier in the day.

"(The absence of positive doping tests at the London Olympics) was an unqualified success for this sport," Lord Stevens said. "This was a triumph which other sports would like to imitate."

Likewise, the development of an FEI biosecurity guide is "excellent" news, Owers said, in the prevention of the spread of disease. This is particularly true given the changes in global climate which are now allowing "exotic" diseases to spread to other parts of the world. This phenomenon, in addition to the slaughter trade in Europe, is bringing health risks "to our own doorsteps."

As such, more stringent precautions need to be taken for prevention, he said, and this is an area where the new FEI biosecurity guide can help bring real change. "Even though FEI horses are generally really well managed, it does amaze me how many top competition yards still let horses on the premises without knowing their vaccination history or their medical history," he said.

Owers said he encourages the FEI and national federations to follow up on their good reputation set at the Olympics by making excellent welfare "the norm"--wherever horses are.

"We should constantly make sure that welfare is truly the top priority in and out of the ring," he said. "If the rules are not fit for purpose, we must change them. If enforcement is not strong enough, we must get firmer. The rules must be understandable by the public, defensible and defended. And we must have a zero tolerance policy on questionable or dubious training methods and practices and to really punish offenders.

"Above all, we must set the welfare agenda," he said. "Otherwise ... we will have the agenda dictated to us."

WHW has been involved with the FEI for the past 30 years and is the beneficiary of a grant through the FEI Solidarity program to improve welfare for working and leisure equids in Cambodia.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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