World Horse Welfare Conference tackles hot topics for horses in the next generation – horse meat, doping, culls and crisis


In a dynamic attempt to open up a much-needed debate that would offer solutions to the current crisis having such a devastating effect on Britain’s horses, the largest horse rescue and rehoming charity in Britain, World Horse Welfare, held its annual conference in London on the 14th November.

Panel at conference

The charity’s President HRH The Princess Royal opened the event with presenters and panellists including top equestrian champions, government representatives, veterinary experts and renowned reporters.

With an influential audience of nearly 350 leaders from across the horse world and beyond, the charity asked its panellists, speakers and audience to look to the future and answer: What will the next generation bring for our horses and the horse world?

The answers were sometimes surprising.

HRH The Princess Royal

In response to the desperate situation of Britain’s horse crisis where at least 7,000 horses are at risk of neglect and abandonment, World Horse Welfare’s President HRH The Princess Royal boldly asked whether “we should be considering a real market for horse meat and would that reduce the number of welfare cases if there was a real value in the horse meat sector?” In light of how horses now appear to be worth more dead than alive in the current market, she said the issue needed a debate. The next day’s headlines made hay with the comments; however, discussions are now taking place across social media on the key drivers of the horse crisis: over breeding and fly grazing. Thanks to the Princess’s remarks, the national media have now put a welcome spotlight on the horse crisis and the need for urgent solutions.

Watch The Princess’s opening speech.


The Future of Racing -- Lord Howard of Lympne, Arena Racing Club Chairman

In an engaging presentation Lord Howard of Lympne spoke on the future of racing and the importance of horse welfare within it. He welcomed the establishment last month of the International Horse Sports Confederation, the first formal vehicle for co-operation between the world’s leading governing bodies for equestrian sport - the FEI and the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

“The fact that protecting horse welfare and maintaining a strong doping control policy is included in the key priorities to which both parties have signed up to provides at least a degree of optimism.

“Horseracing is in its infancy in China, though many believe it could grow at a fast rate in the next few years so it is vital that proper attention is paid to the welfare of horses that take part - the new international body could have an important part to play."

Watch Lord Howard’s presentation.


The Rise in Equestrianism in China and the Challenges for Horse Welfare -- Alex Hua Tian, China’s first Olympic eventer

Alex, who is a national of both the UK and China, spoke on equestrianism’s rapid growth in the East – around 20% year on year since the 2008 Beijing Olympics:

“The two worlds – the West and China – are in stark contrast. In the West we are lucky to enjoy welfare charities and sport governing bodies - all essential infrastructure and organisations that ensure crucial structure and regulation. There is nothing like this in China.

“There is no regulation or qualification for vets, farriers, riders, instructors, trainers, breeders. No access to bute or antibiotics – it is a foreign medicine that is not even allowed to be practiced in the country. It is these factors coupled with the extraordinary growth in the equestrian sport in China that particularly worry me.

“This growth will not occur over 100 years, gently and organically like it has here. There are too many driving forces both domestically in China and in the West. It looks like this growth may well be built on unstable foundations, driven by extraordinary wealth and by western companies looking to develop and tap into a new and exciting market. Those hurt most in these circumstances will be the horses involved.”

Therefore Alex proposes that it is the responsibility of the western companies and organisations that are driving growth and applying pressure for these changes to ensure that their proposals and plans involve allowances for the welfare of those horses involved.

“It is in everyone’s interest to ensure the right building blocks are in place but it will take a lot of work and co-ordination between different cultures – as FEI advisors, World Horse Welfare will continue to play an important role at the heart of these issues.”

Listen to Alex Hua Tian’s presentation.


One Strand of the Tangled Horse Meat Web - Felicity Lawrence, investigative reporter for the Guardian and author of acclaimed book Not on the Label

“It was a scandal waiting to happen,” says the journalist. “Successive government trends have been towards de-regulation and lightening the burden on businesses. There has been much less inspection at meat plants, less funding to those who might enforce.” Supermarkets were also driving down the price of beef burgers and paying below the cost of production. “I don’t think they should have been surprised that there was fraud in the chain somewhere.”

Why horse? Felicity explained that there was a surplus of horses due to excessive breeding and that horses were largely unregulated compared to other livestock, as evidenced by the chaotic horse passport system with 75+ passport issuing organisations in the UK alone. Horse meat was also highly profitable – horses worth pounds could be turned into a meat carcass then worth 400 euros and with inspections being removed or downgraded detection was unlikely – no one was testing for horse meat.

Who did it? Felicity explained the difficulties of investigating when all parties may have a motive to cover up, and the frustration that no one had truly been held to account. She did outline one strand of the tangled web which she was able to tease out with the help of organisations including World Horse Welfare. This comprised a convicted drug smuggler and horse dealer, Lawrence McAllister; the Red Lion Abattoir in Cheshire; and a Dutch cutting plant. 

“Wherever there are animal welfare abuses there is normally always abuse of the workers – the workers at this cutting plant who said they had been receiving horse from the Red Lion Abattoir, were being paid in cash and working long and unofficial shifts. The worst of it was the fact that the beef they were mixing with horsemeat was defrosted, ancient and so green and putrid that the workers had to hold towels over their faces to stop themselves gagging.”

All parties deny any wrongdoing.

Could it happen again? Watch the rest of Felcity’s speech to hear more.


Does the working horse have a future? Professor Derek Knottenbelt answers.

“Horses are good for the world and our future,” says Derek after describing that the donkey/horse is the ideal employee.

“Instead of a petrol guzzling car polluting the earth that rusts at the end of its use, a donkey has green credentials. A donkey is available 24/7, 365 days a year (no Christmas day), is uncomplaining, undemanding, honest, reliable, hard-working, needs minimal pay demands and when it comes to the end of its life - goes back into the earth.

“In 2027 we will have countless more working animals not less. Working animals will gain in value to its owner and there will be many more families reliant on the working horse as oil and transport mechanisms will no longer be available.”

See more of the Professor’s view for the working horse’s future.


World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, Roly Owers sums up with a call to action for the sports industry, vets, the public and government as the charity asks for help with the horse crisis.

“It is a collective responsibility in terms of how we best support this evolving horse/human partnership in the next generation,” says Roly. “We have the influence to shape the next generation of horses."conf

The responsibility of sport

“In sport we must share our knowledge and help budding industries develop the same standard as ours, those with experience must lead the way and set the expectations for welfare. The welfare of the horse must never be subordinated to competitive or commercial influences in equestrian sport. This is the FEI Code of Conduct, drafted with World Horse Welfare several years ago, but the principle applies to everyone in every sport, whether it be an established sport like racing or a developing sport like endurance.

“Whilst it is true that action should have been taken before now, we applaud the FEI and its Endurance Strategic Planning Group for tackling amongst other issues, the real problems of doping and horse fatalities in some parts of the sport. The Group has come up with hard hitting measures to reverse this crisis but of course the sport will be judged by actions in the months ahead, not just words.”

The responsibilities of equine vets to help working horse communities overseas

“The most basic care is unavailable to those 100 million working horses. Our vets must support the teaching of equine science in these countries, fund bursaries, encourage equine students overseas and mentor young vets. Humanitarian aid agencies need to recognise, and Governments in these countries must not be ashamed of, the contribution of working horses to their citizens’ livelihoods and instead they should embrace the sustainable proven method of transport by promoting vet services - and welfare charities must double their efforts to help these people.”

The responsibility of the public

“We breed some excellent sport horses, but we’ve also bred a lot of horses that no one wants to buy…Overpopulation is the largest welfare problem in the UK today and something that the next generation will face…At least 7,000 horses are at risk of suffering or needing rescue right now. Charities are bursting and our waiting lists are longer than ever. The very simple but highly effective answer is that we need to rehome more of our horses, yet rarely does anyone thinks of rehoming a horse before buying one. This has got to change. Horses are living longer, and often the best way to get a horse is through a charity."

The responsibility of government

“The horse sector must take considerable responsibility for ourselves…but Government does have an important role to play to help horses, especially those that are most vulnerable.

“Fly grazing has become the scourge of our rural areas, and is creating an increasing number of welfare problems across the country. We welcome the proposals from Wales to become a ‘zero fly grazing area’ from next year. Now the baton falls to England. Despite charities’ best efforts we are already likely to see culls this winter of ponies left to rot in fields while their owners so easily deny all responsibility. And until Defra brings in laws that allow local authorities to seize horses on the spot and require owners to prove ownership to get them back, more horses will suffer and die.”

The conference ends on a positive note as Roly reiterates that the public, our government, welfare charities and vets live in a country renowned for their loves of horses and the ability to do great things with them. We must spread our knowledge far and wide – we have the means to reach every horse owner in the world if we really want to - but we must act together for not just the horse overseas but for the horse just around the corner in the garden of a neighbour’s house.

Watch Roly's closing speech.