A guide to the ethical use of horses, with a focus on their welfare. 

Horse sports are struggling to successfully match the public’s expectations of welfare. Competition demands are not always compatible with satisfying the horse’s needs, and the tension is threatening the industry’s social licence to operate. In response, the Swiss Horse Industry Council has delivered a lesson in ethical analysis and how to carry out a constructive weighing of interests to advance horse welfare.

Titled “Ethical Reflections on the Dignity and Welfare of Horses and other Equids”, their summary report provides welcome clarity and contributes feasible pathways towards enhanced protection – of horses and the horse sector’s social licence to operate.

Swiss Guide to the Ethical Use of Horses

For a long time, the horse industry has focused mainly on the economics of participation and sponsorship, and has neglected the welfare aspect. In western countries, social demands for the ethically correct treatment of animals have increased.

The discourse around the acceptability of the use of horses and the environmental damage caused by their use and keeping has spread to the general population. With this ethical report, COFICHEV offers a guide to the use of equines that appeals to personal responsibility and always focuses on animal welfare. It addresses issues relating to the keeping, care, breeding and reproduction, transport, sporting use, but also the authorized medical interventions and decisions to be taken at the end of an equine’s life.

The new edition of the ethics report focuses on a very current and important societal development and aims to give professionals in the equine sector, leisure riders and also laymen some guidelines for an approach to the horse partner based on animal welfare.

The Swiss Council and Observatory for the Horse Industry COFICHEV is publishing an expanded version of its “Reflections on Ethics and the Horse”, first published in 2011. This new version is in line with current societal expectations in terms of animal welfare and aims both to inform the entire industry and the general public about developments in recent years in terms of knowledge and to provide guidance for the ethical use of horses and other equines.

The Swiss Horse Industry Council and Administration, COFICHEV (formerly the Swiss Horse Industry Administration, OFiChev), instigated a discussion concerning the most essential ethical requirements. These discussions led to the realisation that there was a significant need for information and communication on such topics.

For this reason, the COFICHEV analysed a number of current ethical issues and published an initial status overview as well as future perspectives (Poncet et al, 2011a, 2011b).

Ten years later, that report has now been updated, taking into account the most recent relevant scientific publications (Poncet et al, 2022).

This latest Summary Report covers the full text’s structure and its most notable points. Readers interested in more in-depth knowledge may consult the full version and delve into the details of the conclusions and recommendations. There, they will also find all necessary bibliographical references for understanding these complex subjects, as well as illustrations.

After their extensive ethical analysis of many issues that are threatening the horse sector’s social licence to operate, the authors recommend an independent and permanent think tank commission dedicated to ethics in the equine industry is set up and financed by the relevant structures.