The concept of “social license to operate” has quickly become a hot topic in barn aisles across the country. When an activity has social license, it has the support of the general public. In our highly interconnected world, the beliefs of the public at large, and particularly animal lovers, increasingly will have an impact on how equestrian sport is viewed and how our competition and pleasure horses live. It is the equine community’s collective responsibility to live up to our expectations for the welfare of our equine and human athletes and show this commitment through our actions, both publicly and privately.
Throughout his career, U.S. Olympic jumping athlete McLain Ward has worked tirelessly to promote responsible horse sport and to protect the well-being of horses throughout their lives. Ward was the first high-profile rider to sign the EQUUS Foundation’s #HorseProtectors Pledge, a new campaign to build consensus among the equine community to support solutions for equines in transition other than shipping to slaughter, and to protect them from the perils of abuse and neglect.
In late March, Ward received the inaugural EQUUS Foundation Spirit Award, presented to an equestrian who has “significantly elevated the image and desirability of horses.”
“McLain embodies everything that the Spirit Award stands for,” said Jenny Belknap Kees, EQUUS Foundation Chair. “He continues to be a force in propelling the equestrian sport forward, excelling to the top, always the sportsman and the gentleman, and always a friend and advocate of the EQUUS Foundation. There was no question in our minds who would be the first recipient.”
“The responsibility to lead the way falls on all of us,” said Ward. “We don’t realize where many horses—including show horses and racehorses—end up and the terrible fate they may face. We just assume that they are taken care of, but that’s not the reality.
“It is so important to have an organization like the EQUUS Foundation that not only steps up to protect horses, particularly in the most vulnerable time in their lives, but also keeps us aware of what’s really happening,” Ward continued. “I think to be part of, and to lend my name to, such an organization is very important.”
For the equine industry to maintain its social license, it is critical to collaborate as a united community to prioritize the safety and well-being of all equines, everywhere, at all stages of their life cycle.
“At a time when many of us are divided by the way we view the world, we can feel reassured and empowered in knowing that we share common ground in our love of horses and their need for protection,” said Lynn Coakley, EQUUS Foundation President. “Now is the time to show solidarity for the welfare of America’s horses. We are asking all horse lovers to speak out and take the #HorseProtectors Pledge.
“By embracing solutions for horses in transition, we will improve our social license,” Coakley continued. “We can’t argue anymore that it can’t be done. We believe it can—and it must.”
The best way to protect horses from peril is to provide viable alternatives to owners when they cannot, or no longer wish to, care for their horses. Going forward, the EQUUS Foundation will be focusing its efforts on:
1. identifying and supporting local and regional safety net programs, such as hay banks, emergency funds, veterinarian help, gelding clinics, owner-to-owner equine placement services, and end-of-life care
2. increasing ways to connect horses in transition with individuals and organizations seeking horses
3. encouraging, incentivizing, and recognizing equine organizations nationwide—both non-profit and for-profit—to operate at the highest standards for equine welfare
The EQUUS Foundation was born 20 years ago from the love of equestrian sport and the critical need to provide care to horses after their sport careers were over. By increasing its focus on grassroots initiatives and promoting collaboration among individuals and organizations in the equine industry, the EQUUS Foundation will continue to promote its mission to put horses first. The EQUUS Foundation Spirit Award honors all that equestrian sport can be, celebrating the extraordinary talent of horses and the magical bond between horses and humans. In accepting his recognition as the inaugural recipient, Ward honored the horses who have brought him to the greatest heights of equestrian sport, as well as those playing a humbler role in the day-to-day lives of humans.
“We owe them our lives,” Ward said. “They give us so much, and they ask for only basic kindness in return. We need to remember to never take this privilege of working and living with horses for granted, to never lose our appreciation for what they have given us throughout the history of time, and to be sure that their relevance in our society does not fade away. This is our greatest responsibility as equestrians.”
Will you join McLain Ward in taking the #HorseProtectors Pledge today? The future of the equine industry depends on it.