The 22nd National Equine Forum, held last week, saw some of Europe’s most distinguished equestrian leaders, charity figureheads and Defra’s Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer emphasising that all equestrian parties must take collective responsibility for the future health and welfare of all horses. Whether addressing the problem of unnecessary breeding and the treatment of unwanted horses, the development of a workable equine ID system and a central database or the ethical use of the horse in sport, the consensus was that the industry should pull together to find long-term solutions, supported by appropriate government legislation and enforcement. The event played host to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the FEI and World Horse Welfare, which provides guidelines for welfare in equestrian sport. It also saw the launch of e.hoof.com, a new online, multi-media educational tool for vets and farriers as well as interested owners and riders.

The Forum was attended by over 200 of the country’s most influential members of the equestrian industry, including NEF President HRH The Princess Royal, international equine vets, researchers, riders and trainers as well as equestrian trade business leaders.

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, instigated an enthusiastic debate on responsible breeding and horse ownership, saying: “Our aim must be to reduce the number of horses bred, and improve the quality of horses bred, and so diminish the number of horses in a perilous situation.  We all have a responsibility to rise to the challenge.”

Nicolas de Brauwere, Head of Welfare and Behaviour at Redwings Horse Sanctuary discussed their observation that irresponsible owners cause ‘problem’ horses. Mr de Brauwere called for owners to be more responsible not only with breeding but also buying, selling, training, riding plus general care and that they should “address problems rather than move on to another horse.”

Stephen Potter, partner at LJ Potter Partners LLP concluded this session with a look at the role of the horse meat industry in the UK. He identified media pressure as contributing to the general public’s negative view of euthanasia. He went on to explain that a review of current drug control legislation, which requires permanent exclusion from the food chain without good scientific reason, would increase the value of unwanted horses that might otherwise become welfare cases, and that such value could significantly improve welfare.

Alick Simmons, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, Defra, reported that the Tripartite agreement would come into force in May this year, to provide a higher level of protection from the spread of infectious diseases from France to the UK. Mr Simmons also said that that the equine diseases EVA and CEM could potentially have their notifiable disease status removed, bringing the UK in line with most other EU member states. On the subject of fly grazing he said the root cause needed to be tackled and that police, local authorities and charities can work together to target perpetrators. Better powers were needed to identify owners and issue appropriate penalties and local authorities should be obliged to act. Of the current ragwort problem he reported that The Secretary of State had taken a keen interest, that a concerted effort was needed and that active talks with industry bodies were underway to tackle the situation. On the contentious issue of horse passports Mr Simmons said a set of minimum operating standards for passport issuing organisations were now in place, particularly to make passports more difficult to tamper with. In terms of any new equine ID legislation Mr Simmons said: “Inevitably it won’t just be what the government does but what you can do as well.”

Reiterating the crucial need for a workable equine ID system, Jan Rogers, Head of Equine Development, British Equestrian Federation, outlined initial plans for a central equine information system, to provide a robust, coordinated facility for an industry that is estimated to be worth £7 billion. She said: “We have learned a great deal from previous databases and there are things we can improve upon. We need to get the system right for all users, from enforcers to passport issuing organisations to horse owners.”