Over 4,500 equestrian stakeholders have participated in a survey designed to take the pulse of the community on topics relating to horse welfare and wellbeing, as well as specific concerns regarding the use of horses in sport.

Early survey results were discussed during the first in-person meeting of the newly formed Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission at the FEI Headquarters in Lausanne (SUI) on 3 and 4 August. While initially set up as the Social License to Operate Commission, the 10 members decided to change the name to better reflect the aims and mission of the group’s work at their inaugural meeting in June.

“We believe that this is the first time an international survey has been carried out to understand the perception of welfare standards in relation to the use of horses in sport,” FEI President Ingmar De Vos said.

“We cannot assume there is general acceptance of horse use in sport, and it’s important that we – the global governing body – proactively seek input from the community to gauge and to address any concerns they may have. Equestrian sport depends on the wellbeing of its horses, and the FEI has a duty to ensure high standards of welfare for the horses competing in each of our disciplines, and also to consider the impact that our sporting activities have on the environment. This is a role we understand and we are fully committed to.

“If our sport is to keep its social license, our community and the public need to believe and trust that our work is being carried out to the highest moral and ethical standards.

“While we have comprehensive systems and mechanisms in place to protect the welfare of the horse, we need to have our finger on the pulse so that we understand, and then clearly address, the priority concerns for different stakeholders, including the public.”

The Commission has initiated two surveys to help with their work. The equestrian stakeholder survey, available in English, French and Spanish, will run till 19 August and will draw on the views of FEI Athletes, Officials, Owners, Organising Committees, Grooms, National Federations and related associations (MOUs), as well as the wider equestrian sector stakeholders.

There will also be a public opinion survey that will be translated into several languages and conducted in 14 key global markets, using a specialist market research and data company.

The results of both surveys will be analysed, and the data considered alongside information from focus groups, the latest research in the area of equine wellbeing, and input from related industry bodies. These insights will help inform a ‘framework’ to guide the development of FEI regulations, policies and practices in the future, including but not limited to education initiatives, standard setting, engagement and enforcement.

“The significant number of responses we have already received is a good indication that the equestrian community is ready and willing to discuss issues related to the welfare of horses in sport,” Chair of the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission Professor Dr. Natalie Waran said.

“The equestrian community is complex and there are many different stakeholders with diverse points of view. We want to gather and understand these concerns and then consider what should be done to not only help improve equine wellbeing, but also address the understanding of horse use in sport around the world.

“It is clear that equine welfare is important for those who are involved with horses at all levels as well as being of concern to members of the public. Improving welfare standards and practice requires a commitment from everyone within the equestrian community. These surveys are not just an opportunity for the Commission to understand global attitudes but also a chance for the general public to have their opinions heard and addressed.”

The Commission will work together over an initial period of 18-months, with an interim report to be presented at the FEI General Assembly in November 2022 in Cape Town (RSA), followed by a second report at the FEI Sports Forum in April 2023 and a final report/framework to be submitted for approval at the FEI General Assembly 2023 in Mexico.

More information on the work and composition of the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission can be found here.