Danish report recommends doing away with the view of the horse as an athlete. Saying we should instead recognise that horses’ participation in competitions is only about the interests and ambitions of people.

It calls for specific legislation to be drawn up if the recommendations from the Council do not “lead to immediate action by the industry”.

The 56 page report by the Danish Animal Ethics Council has been four years in the making. It does not consider problematic in itself that horses are used for sport, but recognises that such use entails a risk that the horses’ welfare will be compromised.
Similar to the Productivity Commission in Australia, the Danish Council of Animal Ethics is an independent research and advisory body that reports to the Danish Minister of Agriculture on issues that may require updating or revision of the animal welfare legislation. The advisory panel which is made up of veterinarians, SPCA representatives, zoo directors, farmers, as well as philosophers and journalists, began their investigation in 2019, and have consulted extensively with representatives from the Danish Equestrian Federation, equine veterinarians and other industry stakeholders.
In an interview published by Danish media site DR, the President of the Danish National Equestrian Federation, Ulf Helgstrand says he is surprised by the report, and that many of the issues raised are already addressed in the regulations. Nevertheless, he admits this may be an opportunity to ensure they are being enforced.
The report comes 10 months after a similar expert commission proposed 46 recommendations to the French National Assembly for making Paris 2024 the Olympic Games of equine welfare.
The following text is an unofficial translation of the summary, while we await the official English translation to be published.

Danish Report Summary

In recent years, concern and awareness that sporting requirements may be a risk to the welfare of the horses has increased. Research into training methods and horse welfare, and norms for keeping and using animals have also developed. With this statement, the Animal Ethics Council hopes to be able to contribute to an evaluation and rethinking of the use of horses for sport.

The Council uses examples from dressage and show jumping, but emphasises that the choice of these two disciplines is solely based on consideration of the delimitation of the opinion, and that the Council’s principled considerations and recommendations also apply to other disciplines.

In giving its opinion, the council has selected some focus areas which can pose special challenges for animal welfare when horses are used for sport, namely the horse’s durability, housing, as well as training and competitions.

The Animal Ethics Council does not find it problematic per se that horses are used for sport, but that their use entails a risk that the horses’ welfare is compromised.

The council emphasises that it is unacceptable for horses to suffer pain, wounds and other discomfort when performing sporting activities. The council believes that this must cease immediately and, in extension, reminds of the current legislation.

The Animal Ethics Council recommends that practices and traditions around equestrian sports be evaluated in the light of the knowledge that exists about the behaviour and welfare of horses today, as well as up-to-date norms for the keeping and use of animals.

The council further believes that there is a need to do away with the view of the horse as an athlete and instead recognise that horses’ participation in competitions is solely about the interests and ambitions of people.

In the statement, the Animal Ethics Council makes a number of recommendations regarding, among other things,

  • training of persons responsible for keeping horses, training, teaching and holding competitions;
  • the age limit for horses’ participation in competitions etc.;
  • housing with prioritszation of horses’ social needs and access to free movement; as well as
  • limits on the extent to which a horse must be away from its accustomed surroundings in order to participate in competitions or be on training stays.

The council also recommends rethinking training and the use of equipment, including that the use of certain types of equipment ceases if the use in practice has the character of a form of coercion or is used to force performance development.

Regarding competitions, the Council recommends, among other things,

  • that you only reward performances that do not compromise the welfare of horses to such an extent that conflict behaviour, pain and other discomfort can be observed;
  • that all horses are checked for wounds and injuries both before and after competitions,
  • that injuries are registered in central registers and,
  • that people are trained in an independent context to carry out these checks.

Regarding use of doping, the Council recommends that significantly more tests be carried out over a period of time so that the results reflect the real conditions.

The council further recommends that it be clarified that if a horse has received a treatment that may affect its performance, it must not participate in competitions until the effects of the treatment can be expected to have ceased.

The council therefore also recommends that the medication of sport horses must be registered, that the information must be made available to those who must control the horses at competitions, and that horses that are still within the effective period of the treatment be refused to participate.

Finally, the Council recommends that surgical interventions that have an impact on the horse’s performance be listed in the horse’s passport, so that a ban on participating in competition can be enforced.

The Animal Ethics Council emphasises that the considerations and recommendations in the statement are relevant for the evaluation of all forms of equestrian sport, and that the recommendations should lead to immediate action on the part of the industry.

If the follow-up does not happen as soon as possible, the Council recommends that specific legislation be drawn up in Denmark for the use of horses for sport.

The full report can be found here. 

Watch as Horses and People editor analyses whether Paris 2024 will be the Olympic Games of Equine Welfare.