This post is an AI aided translation of the online article published by Le Parisien, following up on the French Parliamentary report sent to the Games’ organising committee in 2022, and which included 46 recommendations for welfare reform. Most of which have not been actioned.

This article was published to complement another by journalist Emille Torgemen, which is exclusive to the print edition of Le Parisien. You can read a translation here.

Here we offer a translation of the online article – please visit the original website for background.

2024 Olympic Games: “To make Paris 2024 the Olympic Games of horse welfare”

Around forty names from the veterinary and equestrian world, both French and international, are calling in an article published by Le Parisien for advancements in considering the pain and needs of animals in elite-level sports. “The 2024 Paris Olympics are a unique, exceptional opportunity to permanently highlight the welfare of equine athletes, who are the only animal species competing in the Olympics.”

At a time when animal welfare has been elevated to cause societal and political concern, and has become a media topic, and with a new edition of the world’s largest sporting event approaching, it is essential to seriously consider the well-being of horses if we want equestrian events at the Olympic Games to continue.

Perceiving the horse solely as a performance tool in service to its rider and the country it represents, while forgetting the sensitive being it is, is an outdated view that must evolve in light of scientific publications on animal emotions, pain perception, and sensitivity to stress. These concepts should serve as the basis for implementing appropriate practices. The Paris Olympics, as a showcase of Olympic sports, offer France the opportunity to initiate a new relationship with equine athletes, whose impact will be international and should extend to the equine sports sector.

Some disrespectful practices towards animals are part of the training journey of the equine athlete destined for competition. In many equestrian disciplines, these practices occur during training, through the use of restrictive equipment such as uncomfortable hind leg boots, oversized spurs, tight nosebands, restrictive lunging aids, coercive bits.

Some practices themselves are equally reprehensible, such as violent hand actions, abusive use of the whip or spurs, prolonged hyperflexion of the neck potentially harmful physically and psychologically… Of course, these practices are the work of a minority, and not all riders are to blame, but it only takes a few to tarnish the image of equestrian sports and put them at risk of disappearing. On their part, equestrian authorities are taking regulatory measures, notably through dedicated charters on horse welfare, whose intentions are commendable… but never binding. “46 recommendations that were the subject of a recent parliamentary report.”

As France prepares to become the center of attention for hundreds of millions of people around the world next July, our country must set an example and act on new advances in considering animals in our society. France could take the lead and promote the fight against equine abuse through binding regulation of equipment (bits, spurs, boots…) and equestrian practices during training, warm-up, and competition for horses. As the Paris Olympics approach, which will see the equestrian events taking place at the wonderful site of the Palace of Versailles, dreaming of a better world for the animal that represents a major success of domestication and establishing an ethical framework for equine well-being to be respected requires the application of 46 recommendations that were the subject of a recent parliamentary report, and applicable also to all equestrian competitions beyond the Olympic Games. These recommendations have been reviewed by experts, veterinarians, and all organizations consulted.

Here are some examples:

  • Monitor horses longitudinally in preparation for the Olympic Games and provide doping tests between one month and fifteen days before the veterinary check prior to the events;
  • Establish a “welfare committee” on all training and competition sites, composed of independent experts who can freely move around the entire Olympic site of the equestrian events as part of a special mission on “equine welfare at the Olympic Games”;
  • Expand video surveillance across the entire site, which will be made available to the “welfare committee”;
  • Strictly limit the use of the whip under penalty of sanction, or even disqualification. Video surveillance can be requested if necessary as a means of proof;
  • Record events for deferred analysis and possible sanctioning;
  • Systematically check the conformity of the rider’s artificial aids (spurs, whip), harness, and horse protections, as provided for in the regulations;
  • Regulate these aids: foam spurs of less than 2 cm in length, prohibition of hind leg boots, authorization of light and loose fetlock boots;
  • Consult the “welfare committee” in case of bleeding on a horse to stop the continuation of an event;
  • Ban the flexion of the neck placing the muzzle behind the vertical line throughout the Olympic arena (“hyperflexion”) and apply immediate sanctions for all equestrian disciplines;
  • Equip the cross-country course with 100% of obstacles designed to yield in case of a fall or strong attachment of the horse.

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games organizing committee alone, following hearings from various organizations, must decide on the fate of these recommendations. The sustainability of equestrian sports, the French tradition that accompanies them, and ultimately the survival of the horse, a human auxiliary for 2,200 years, a wonderful animal that has, in turn, allowed humans to move, share their destiny in wars, ensure the development of agriculture, and is now the main protagonist of popular sports disciplines around the world.

In exchange for its generosity and trust in us, let us give it the consideration and respect it deserves.”

Signatories: Dr. Loïc Dombreval, veterinarian, president of the CNPA (National Council for Animal Protection); Dr. Thierry Bedossa, veterinarian, president of “Agir pour la vie animale” (AVA); Dr. Thomas Bertholdy, equine veterinarian; Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, president of the LPO; Dr. Vincent Boureau, veterinarian, vice-president of the French Equine Veterinary Association (AVEF) founder of Equi-Ethic, a think tank dedicated to equine welfare; Prof. W. Robert Cook, Emeritus Professor, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, Boston; Marie-Bénédicte Desvallon, lawyer and solicitor of England & Wales, director of the “animal and law” session at the National School of Magistracy; Prof. Nathalie Crevier-Denoix, professor at the National Veterinary School of Alfort, director of the associated unit at INRAe “Biomechanics and locomotor pathology of the horse”; Shelby Dennis, Founder of Milestone Equestrian, Certified Equine Behavior Consultant; Prof. Jean-Marie Denoix, Emeritus Professor of the National Veterinary School of Alfort, founder of the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology; Alice Di Concetto, animal rights lawyer, The European Institute for Animal Law & Policy, Patrick Galloux, riding instructor and former member of the Cadre Noir and the French equestrian team; Dr. Jacques Guérin, veterinarian, president of the National Council of Veterinarians; Martine Hausberger, research director at CNRS; Caroline Hegarty, Founder of Equitopia and Founding Member of the Alliance for Horse Welfare in Sport; Dr. Christophe Hugnet, veterinarian, president of the National Company of Veterinary Expert Witnesses; Maud Lafon, veterinarian, general secretary of “Agir pour la vie animale”; Stéphane Lamart, president of the Stéphane Lamart association; Frédéric Lenoir, Philosopher and writer; Prof. Paul McGreevy, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney; Dr. Laurent Mangold, equine veterinarian, vice-president of the French Equine Veterinary Association (AVEF); Christophe Marie, deputy director of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation; Dr. Emma Milne, veterinarian.

A note from the editor, Cristina Wilkins: I am incorrectly listed as one of the signatories of Mr Dombreval’s letter. For full disclosure, I had indeed supported and signed the original petition sent by Mr Dombreval on 16th January 2024, however, on 10th February, after having signed, he informed that that the original text would be amended, with the addition of certain qualifiers that I do not support.

In particular, the original letter called for a blanket ban on all hyperflexion – which corresponds with the scientific evidence and was the recommendation within the original expert report from 2022. The new version of the letter was amended by adding the qualifier ‘prolonged’, as well as a following sentence that might imply that only a few riders use the practice, when the evidence is that it is widespread. As a result, I asked that my signature was removed. It wasn’t, and I want to clarify that I do not support the se amendments to the letter.