Today I read a very interesting article in Horse&Hound by Harry Meade. It focused mainly on Bertram Allen getting disqualified at Olympia last year (read about what happened here) and Harry’s opinion on the situation.
This article made a really interesting point that welfare in equestrian sports is suffering due to public perception of welfare in the sport taking priority. He made the point that during cross country and eventing, a horse can be pulled up if blood is seen and inspected by a vet. If the vet believes there is no welfare issue to the horse, then the horse is allowed to carry on. However, in show jumping and showing, any sign of blood (or mark) leads to disqualification, no matter how insignificant the injury may be.
The reason behind this rule is to protect animal welfare and so that they are seen to be doing something about animal welfare in their sport. However, Harry went on to make a very good point. He said that in high profile cases like Bertram Allen’s disqualification, officials and those reporting can only say he was disqualified for welfare reasons, or complain about the welfare rules. Both these things will eventually reflect badly on the sport as a whole, due to the activity on social media. The non-horsey public, especially those who disagree with equine sports, jump on these cases saying the horses are treated terribly and the riders beat and abuse them. So when the horsey public then argue that the rules are too strict, this makes the industry as a whole look like we do not care about the welfare of our horses.
So how can this be resolved?
The most obvious way to resolve this would be to change or re-examine the disqualification rules so that only significant injuries or possible welfare cases are disqualified from competition. Not only would this improve how these situations go viral on social media, but it will also be putting the horse’s welfare first. But with our televised sports under a lot of pressure from the public to improve horse welfare, I am unsure how likely things are to change soon.
It really was a good article. If you get this weeks Horse&Hound, do read it. It may also be on the Horse&Hound website if you have a look.