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The Modern Equestrian Manifesto- How we can / must stay relevant for future generations

coaching equitation horsecare Oct 19, 2022

The Horse.

The needs and wishes of horses will always come first. At the centre of Equestrian Sport and Leisure, the community of horse lovers and the horse industry is our beloved population of horses. At the centre of my world as a Coach, Rider and human being you will always find horses. 
My promise to every horse I connect with begins with friendship based on trust, empathy, patience and communication. This leads to building an intuitive connection with horses based on developing a harmonious partnership. 

Read my opinion piece on how we stay relevant for future generations by demonstrating, discussing and explaining that the guardians of SLO now and in the future are our horses and the partnership we share with them. What do I mean by Guardian? Where do I see the meeting of minds between the Equestrians of today and the future? Read on as I attempt to unravel my thoughts on this important and complex challenge. 

First what is SLO and why should we all pay attention to the debate? Social License To Operate is a hot topic following recent research and peer reviewed papers on the increased scrutiny of Equestrian Sport and the real fear of how equestrian sport is perceived by the general public. There are real fears about how our sport and our future generation of equestrian partners might face censure and distrust which could ultimately end the keeping and riding of horses. These are the headlines I see.

The SLO Survey said…

According to a recent report in Horse & Hound  an “independent survey of 2057 adults, representative of the U.K. population in gender and socio- economic background” was commissioned by World Horse Welfare.
94% had little or no recent contact with horses and 45% had never had any contact. 
52% felt horse welfare should be prioritised more in communications and 60% said there should be more safety and welfare measures in place in horse sports.

How do I react to this information? 
Firstly I take comfort from the fact that 55% of the population had some if not recent contact with horses. I would like to know more about their experience, how did they personally define contact. Had they met and handled horses, had they seen them out and about?  A police horse on duty maybe or a competition broadcast on the television? Do they have friends who are connected in some way with horses? What about those 45% who had never had any contact. Were they curious about the questions? Did they ever wish to meet a horse? If they knew no one with horses and scrolled by equestrian content they chanced upon what would it take for them to find out more about horses. Would they be willing to for example, read or watch a presentation to understand why the Highway Code was recently updated and to seek a few more insights into the world horses currently experience? 

Rider Responsibilities 

Thinking back to before the term SLO appeared on my radar,  my Rider Responsibilities to my horse were set in stone by my family, coaches and Peers. The education system for horse lovers has always pressed upon me the non negotiable horses first rule. Why did I use the term Guardian and why did I bestow it to our equine stakeholders? I view a Guardian as a protector, a listening ear, a connection to knowledge, wisdom maybe even an evolutionary link between past and future generations. A Guardian has true and clear values, expectations.. these might be the attributes of the human half of the partnership but ask someone who has observed a horse herd with hay to eat and it will be clear to see the horse’s expectations!

Sometimes a Guardian is loud and assertive sometimes quiet, reflective, thoughtful. If it seems fanciful to assign a horse this title please spare me a moment to elaborate on relationships where there are conversations without words, unspoken shared decisions, friendships that might be hard to fathom if you have yet to meet a horse or talk to a horse person who can articulate the importance of the horse to their identity.

To serve our friend the horse, we agree to take responsibility for their health, wellbeing and to manage our expectations of how they might answer our questions or respond to the routines we provide with fairness and empathy.
To protect the horses and horse sport of the future we must also show the wider public and those who might oppose horse ownership that the connection all equestrians share is a love, a duty, a responsibility to our collective global herd. 

What is my view as a modern equestrian Coach and Rider of SLO?

I believe strongly that there are new challenges ahead for GenerationZ horse lovers and the future generations  who feel the magnetic pull to nurture and hang out with horses, to build a partnership where a horse willingly shares our dreams and challenges. The issue of SLO must be embraced now for the sake of the next generation of horses! 
Who can advocate for horses better than the community who love and serve them? Whose voice might best represent these horses to those who have yet to explore the horse world? To those who may or not be curious about what it takes to care for a horse yet are uncertain that sport should continue? 
What can horse riders and coaches and others whose living is entwined with horse sport do to apply for or renew our SLO and to present the case for the horses of the future? 
In nearly every moment of my day I will hope to have a horse nearby to talk to or spend time with. I shrink from the idea that horse lovers of the future might lose this connection, the chance to form a bond, to share a horse’s life.

So, I think it’s vital that we listen to the concerns and curiosity of those who wonder why..

The strongest stakeholder in the SLO debate is of course the horse. I think anyone who doubts the voice of opinion or needs of a horse might yet change their perspective when we share the horse’s voice. 

Horses do speak, for those who have yet to hear them we can attempt to translate. To offer insights into their world, their routine, their habits. We can honour our horses with the high standards of care and horsemanship we deliver today and share for the future. 

How do we stay RELEVANT.

We stay relevant for future generations by demonstrating, discussing and explaining that the guardians of SLO now and in the future are our horses. In Equestrian Sport our horses rightly have a choice and always the “last word” when they decide to share their time with us. 

What does SLO mean for you in Equestrian Sport? Let me know in the box if you have comments, questions or observations on this topic. 


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