A commission to help horse sport maintain its social license to operate has been announced by the world governing body for equestrian disciplines.

The Commission which includes external ‘independent’ equitation scientists will develop a practical framework to help the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) address current and future criticism and concerns related to the use of horses in sport.

A Social Licence to Operate (SLO) is the term given to society’s acceptance of the practice of equestrian sport and all its related activities.

According to the leading researchers in this area, a great deal of the social licence discussions revolve around how horses are treated – the impact training and competition have on their mental and physical welfare.

But there are other influences, such as the extent to which the sport is seen to play by the rules – not just the written regulations, but also the ethical and moral norms, whether they are formal or informal. 

The social licence to operate tends to be noticed most when it is threatened or withdrawn.

This is exactly what has happened to the horse-riding phase in Modern Pentathlon, following public outrage over the conduct of one rider and her coach at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Earlier this year, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) voted to remove horse riding from the programme after the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

But Pentathlon was not the only sport under scrutiny. The equestrian events of the Tokyo Olympics saw incidents in the other FEI regulated disciplines. These incidents triggered some very strong reactions from the media and spectators, with a section of the population asking for a ban of all equestrian competitions from the Olympic Games, considering them to be practices harmful to the well-being of horses.

The spectacle prompted the French National Assembly to recommend 46 specific rule changes in a report that was addressed to the 2024 Paris organising committee, urging them to “take strong measures alongside the FEI and the FFE to guarantee the sustainability of this sport and that societal acceptance of the constraints imposed on equine athletes can be in line with the evolution of our society which appears more and more sensitive to the respect of animal welfare.”

It has taken some time but finally, the FEI is taking pro-active action.

“Equestrian sport and the FEI’s activities are more than ever under public scrutiny and through the Commission we want to embrace that scrutiny to drive change and shine the spotlight on our number one stakeholder – the horse” FEI President Ingmar De Vos explained.

“There are comprehensive systems and mechanisms in place to protect the welfare of the horse, but there is more that can be done, and more that must be done. And in an ever-changing society, where perceptions shift and norms evolve at an increasingly fast pace, the FEI must address these concerns and criticisms from society and within equestrian circles in a clear and transparent manner.

“This is our duty as the governing body responsible for equestrian sport, and this is why we have set up this important and independent Commission to allow us to move forward with a course of action that will strengthen equestrian’s place in society.”

The 10 person Commission will be chaired by Professor Dr. Natalie Waran (NZL), an animal welfare expert and Fellow of the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) who is currently Professor of One Welfare and Executive Dean at the Eastern Institute of Technology (Te Pūkenga) in New Zealand.

Prof. Waran is among the five members of the Commission considered as external to the FEI, with their selection based on consultation with equine welfare and veterinary groups, while the remaining five members represent the FEI and have been selected for their experience, specific area of FEI responsibility and to provide the athletes’ and officials’ viewpoint.

“I am very honoured to have been asked to lead this work,” Prof Waran said. “By gathering external experts together to facilitate the development of a framework to address and advance the welfare needs of the sports horse, the FEI has taken a key step forward in terms of social license.

“By being willing to look to the horizon, and address current and future challenges in relation to equestrian sports’ Social License to Operate, as well as to view change as a force for good, the FEI and its member organisations will provide the leadership required to help future-proof equestrian sports.”

The first meetings of the Commission, which has yet to be formally named, will take place in June 2022, and will include plans for engagement with various stakeholders and the focus and composition of the Working Groups.

The Commission is expected to work together over an initial period of 18-months, with an interim report to be presented at the FEI General Assembly in November 2022 in Cape Town (RSA), followed by a second report at the FEI Sports Forum in April 2023 and a final report/framework to be submitted for approval at the FEI General Assembly 2023 in Mexico.

FEI Social License to Operate Commission:

  • Chair: Professor Dr. Natalie Waran, External Expert, Professor of One Welfare and Executive Dean at the Eastern Institute of Technology (Te Pūkenga) in New Zealand.


  • Professor Kathalijne Visser-Riedstra, External Expert, Professor (UAS) Human-Animal Interactions at Aeres University of Applied Sciences – Almere, Flevoland, The Netherlands
  • Dr Camie Heleski, External Expert, Senior Lecturer College of Agriculture, Food and Environment – Lexington USA
  • Dr Madeleine Campbell, External Expert, Senior Lecturer in Human-Animal Interactions & Ethics – Royal Veterinary College University of London
  • Ms Jessica Stark, External Expert, World Horse Welfare Communication & Public Affairs Director
  • Mr Theo Ploegmakers, European Equestrian Federation President, FEI Board Member
  • Mr Cayetano Martínez de Irujo, Spanish jumping rider – International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC)
  • Mr Ken E. Lalo, CAS Arbiter, former Chair of the FEI Tribunal, President of the Israel Equestrian Federation
  • Ms Sabrina Ibanez, FEI Secretary General, APSO President
  • Mr Cesar Hirsch, FEI Judge and Steward Level 3 and President of the Pan American Equestrian Confederation (PAEC)

Ex Officio – Administrative and Logistic Support

  • Dr Francisco Lima, FEI Director Governance & Institutional Affairs
  • Ms Barbara Rodel, Manager FEI President’s Office