Social License to Operate in the Equine Industry

May 17 2023 | General

Credibility, professionalism and trust!

After numerous incidents that were problematic from an animal welfare point of view, there has recently been harsh criticism of equestrian sports. More and more often we read  headlines in the public media such as : “Sport or cruelty to animals: Is equestrian sport still justifiable”. Through such negative headlines, the horse industry is earning a lot of criticism and we need to ask ourselves whether we can continue as before. What do we have to think about if we want to continue practicing equestrian sports or riding in general in the future?

These questions were the topic of an information event on SLO with Prof. Dr. med. Vet. Michael Weishaupt, initiated by the Icelandic Horse Association Switzerland. Barla Isenbügel and Guðbjörn H. Jónsson hosted the online seminar, and almost 200 people listened to the lecture by the Head of Sports Medicine at the Animal Hospital. Prof. Michael Weishaupt is an internationally renouned expert in the field of horse welfare, and right at the beginning he clarified the importance of the topic in our times. SLO affects all those who own, keep and use horses – in this sense, a great many people are affected. At the same time, some might not even know what to make of this concept.

The term “Social License to Operate” describes the public (social) acceptance (license) of an industry to be allowed (to operate) its activity. In the horse world, the health and protection of horses is a primary concern. Practices that were acceptable yesteryear are being questioned by today’s society, and some traditions need to be stopped because they cannot be justified. In order not to lose the equestrian SLO, the equine industry must (re)gain the trust of the public by truly protecting the welfare of horses.

How can this be implemented? Mike Weishaupt explained a whole catalogue of different measures. First of all, ethics or ethical aspects of all practices must be examined. And animal welfare must be prioritized. Any concerns about physical, mental and social welfare should be taken seriously, good examples of animal welfare should be promoted, and horse safety (e.g., equipment and ground conditions) should be improved.

All those involved in the equine industry should be encouraged to gain sufficient knowledge and practical skills, learning ” how to do it better!” For good media relations, it is always important to maintain transparency, do good and talk about behaviour being visible. Lastly, we need to be proactive and engage all stakeholders in the equine industry. All new and innovative practices should be backed by research. What became clear was that the current crisis could also be an opportunity: as long as we remain curious and self-critical, nurture our passion, and respect the horse, we have the opportunity to transform the public’s rather critical opinions. We should be able to show our wonderful horse world, which actually goes far beyond sport. We could bring to the public that equestrianism is a relationship between human and animal that is unique and inspiring.

Image: Prof. Dr. med.Vet. Michael Weishaupt