A Delphi Study to Determine International and National Equestrian Expert Opinions on Domains and Sub-domains Essential to Managing Sporthorse Health and Welfare in the Olympic Disciplines

J. M. Williams, Lisa C. Berg, Hilary M Clayton, Katharina Kirsch, David Marlin, Hayley Randle, Lars Roepstorff, Marianne Sloet van Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan, Michael Weishaupt, Carolien Munsters

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Abstract

Simple Summary: Horse sports are popular worldwide, providing spectator enjoyment, benefiting human health, and contributing substantially to national economies. Training and management practices used to care for sporthorses are generally based on tradition rather than science; this combined with the high-risk nature of equestrian activities led to the public questioning if sporthorse health and welfare are being compromised. To understand better how sporthorses are being managed, experts, actively involved with national and international horse sports (dressage, showjumping, and eventing) were consulted across four rounds of a Delphi study. This approach allowed participants to interact to reach a point where everyone agreed on core areas (or domains) that they felt were essential to sporthorse management. Five areas were rated as essential: training management, competition management, young horse management, health status and veterinary management, and the horse–human relationship. Stable and environmental management, and welfare assessment were rated as important but not essential, as most experts felt that these areas were already managed well. Experts called for increased education and research to support riders, trainers, and federations. A welfare charter and evidence-based guidelines to inform management practices were advised to ensure sporthorses have a good life and to safeguard the future of equestrian sports. Abstract: The public is increasingly questioning equestrianism’s social license to operate. While the focus historically centered on horseracing, increased scrutiny is now being placed on how dressage, showjumping, and eventing are addressing equine management and welfare concerns. Nominated equestrian federation and equestrian organization experts (n = 104) directly involved in international and/or national-level horse sports took part in a four-stage, iterative Delphi to obtain consensus on what factors should be considered essential to manage sporthorse health and welfare. Five core domains were agreed as essential: training management, competition management, young horse management, health status and veterinary management, and the horse–human relationship. Two further domains: stable and environmental management, and welfare assessment were rated as important but not essential, as most respondents felt that these areas were already managed well. Participants felt increased education and guidance combined with further policy development and regulation are needed to support stakeholders to optimize sporthorse management. An appetite to engage with research to generate evidence that promotes sporthorse welfare was evident. The development of a sporthorse welfare charter and evidence-based guidelines to inform the management and monitoring of sporthorses’ health and welfare are recommended to provide horses with a good life and to safeguard the future of equestrian sports.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3404
JournalAnimals
Volume13
Issue number21
Early online date2 Nov 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2023

Keywords

  • dressage
  • equestrian
  • equine management
  • equine training
  • eventing
  • horse sports
  • horse–rider relationship
  • showjumping
  • social license to operate
  • welfare

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