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Enhancing value, being evidence-led and campaigning highlighted as key factors in improving equine welfare through ‘Changing Times’
“Everyone must take the responsibility and time to improve equine welfare,” was the take home message from World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, Roly Owers, speaking at the charity’s 2018 Annual Conference which took place in London on Wednesday (31st October).
A diverse range of speakers from across the international equine sector discussed and debated the topic of ‘Changing Times’ at the event which was attended by around 400 guests and hosted at the Royal Geographical Society.
Roly began the day’s proceedings by focusing on a number of ways to cope with and make the most of the changing times affecting the equine sector in the UK and around the world. He said:
“We need to reach out to the world to better understand the horse-human partnership and to appreciate its relevance, its importance and its benefit to society. We must strive to make what was once impossible, possible. We have seen how technology and the wider political, economic, and social environment is in flux, reshaping and tearing down some boundaries whilst creating others. But if we aim high, and we work together as one, I believe that we can change the world for equines.”
Executive Director of Animal Nepal, Utam Kaphle, then spoke about the charity’s partnership work with World Horse Welfare which uses the approach of helping people in order to help their working horses. He said:
“By reaching out to the whole community, we address various aspects of livelihoods which all have a direct impact on the welfare of the horses. By improving the socio-economic situation of the community through income generation training which helps communities to find alternative sources of income, reducing the workload for the equines and increasing income which not only benefits families but also benefits their animals.”
Olympic dressage rider and World Horse Welfare Trustee, Richard Davison, then turned the focus towards equestrian sport – the good, the bad and the ugly – looking at how rules and sanctions protect welfare in the sport world. He questioned the media’s presentation and coverage of sanctions and also discussed new research and approaches to training methods. He concluded:
“There is endless protection from regulations. We don’t need more regulations; we just need them to be clear, unambiguous and relevant to modern times and current knowledge. And if you do seek rule amendments, then do it through the correct process by lobbying your national federation.”
Andrea Betteridge, Founder of the Traditional Gypsy Cob Association (TGCA) spoke about the organisation’s work to raise the status and standard of the breed type and the importance of promoting their versatility. She said:
“If an animal has a job, it has a value. We have to think of what they can do and put disciplines in place to showcase cobs’ adaptability, plus give something for everyone to do and compete – regardless of their level. We need to give a cob a job.”
Next up was former MP, Tim Collins, who gave his perspective on Brexit and what it could mean for the equine sector. He gave three key take home messages on the subject, urging listeners to take a stand and let their voices be heard through campaigning. He highlighted what he considers to be the most pressing welfare concern with Brexit, saying:
“Border control and waiting times at borders for animals being both imported and exported needs to be the main focus of our campaigning. For me, this will have the biggest impact on animal welfare and must be addressed.”
Joe Saxton, Founder and Driver of Ideas at nfpSynergy, spoke on the volatile nature of trust in charities, highlighting the constantly changing levels of trust in different areas of the charity sector. He said:
“Charities must be professional and responsible, but must not appear too professional or they risk alienating their supporters.”
A discussion panel of five renowned vets: Julian Rishworth, Ebony Escalona, Gemma Pearson, Sarah Coombs and Ben Mayes, tackled a number of issues including the topical debate about rider weight, the unique role of vets in enhancing equine welfare through working with their clients, the challenges presented by hard to reach communities and the developments in understanding of equine behaviour which raise the question of how we define modern horsemanship.
Finally, the day concluded with World Horse Welfare President, HRH The Princess Royal giving her thoughts on the different presentations and topics. She questioned how the equine sector can deal with change and the huge number of influences which are driving changes. She said:
“Is all change progress? Technology has connected us to huge amounts of knowledge and information – but how do we know there is wisdom behind that knowledge?”
The Princess Royal also spoke about the responsibility which owners take on when they decide to purchase, loan or rehome a horse. She said:
“As an owner you have a 24 hour responsibility for your animal's welfare. Not a responsibility which depends on how interested you feel or how busy you are from one day to the next. One key thing that struck me from all of today’s presentations is time. We might be more time poor now but spending time and patience is essential in training our animals. A quick fix is not effective or sustainable.
“Working from an evidence-base, responsibility and time are all themes which have been highlighted today and I hope we all take home thoughts which will help us deal with these changing times.”
World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, Roly Owers, closed the conference saying:
“To be able to change, we have to be prepared to change, but need to base change on common sense, experience and evidence.”