Report from the 31st National Equine Forum, Westminster, London

The F&I Association was represented this year by myself, Mandy Luesley and Carol Bennitt.  Carol and Mandy were the lucky winners of their tickets at our Annual Course.  Other F&I members present (in various guises) were Sarah MacDonald and Liz Eaton (that I’m aware of!)

An impressively diverse range of presenters variously informed, educated, entertained and even moved a nearly full Institution of Mechanical Engineers hall for a pretty packed days schedule.   NEF President, The Princess Royal was in attendance all day. 

Long Article Warning: You may want to read this in bits (or leave some out!)  But we sat through the whole day, frequently riveted, sometimes moved and rarely bored.  I made brief notes, which are definitely not the full detail, but my personal reflections on the presentations.  I’ve put in some links for the curious to delve a little deeper.  [Apologies for the occasional ‘thought out loud’]

The Equine Industry in a Changing World

The Right Hon Lord Benyon, Minister of State for DEFRA was the first speaker.

The DEFRA View

  • His intention in office, “To change what needs to be changed and preserve what needs to be preserved.” 
  • He mentioned his steep learning curve in equestrian sport at his visit to Badminton last year. 
  • He congratulated the industry for its support of horses in Ukraine (more of that later). 
  • Lord Benyon acknowledged that 16% of riding schools have been lost since 2018 and he hopes to help to strengthen this sector in the future. 
  • It’s hoped that negotiations in the ‘Windsor Framework’ in Northern Ireland will streamline border controls and ease the movement of equines, as will improved digital ID for horses and enhanced traceability. This is important also for mitigating disease management. DEFRA is encouraging compliance here, as well as implementing more scanning and ID checking. 
  • But there is a balance to be struck between bio security and ease of movement.
  • They are considering the concept of fixed penalty notices for non-compliance. 
  • There’s a current consultation over horse transport and trying to understand the different requirements for equine transport versus other livestock, including temperature, head room and journey times. 
  • [A number of ‘political promises’ here – watch this space!]


David Mountford, Chair of the British Horse Council

Tales from the British Horse Council 

  • We’re trying to join forces between ‘The Bs.’
  • Government has commissioned a review of the disease protection system, following the demise of the Animal Health Trust. We can’t rely solely on the TB industry to manage this. 
  • Anthelmintic resistance is a genuine threat to the equine industry. 
  • A government consultation on the subject of equine ID received 400 responses, while a BHC survey attracted 3,500 responses. The overriding conclusion was that there is a need for digital ID of horses.
  • Brexit had serious consequences for our industry: Relocation of riders; threat to competitions, etc.
  • We have a choice whether to, “Play politics or lead by example.”
  • We need to minimise cost and bureaucracy.
  • “High health” horses should have a smoother passage through borders; ie, those that are vaccinated, passported, micro-chipped.
  • Vaccine shortages. 
  • There is a genuine risk of increased outbreaks.
  • We need to implement best practice protocols.
  • Progress can be slow, but things are looking positive.
  • “Its not economical to go to bed early to save candles, if the result is twins!” [Nice Chinese proverb]


Roly Owers, CEO World Horse Welfare

Public acceptance of the equine industry in a changing world 

  • In a recent survey 20% of respondents did not support the continued use of horses and 40% only if welfare was improved. Over 50% believe welfare needs improving. 
  • What does the public see?
  • Roly talked about the publicising of positive images [An F&I initiative, btw!]  
  • SLO: We need to talk about this or it will be an own goal.
  • He cited the example of SeaWorld after the film documentary ‘Blackfish’, which SeaWorld dismissed as lies. In the following year public attendance at SeaWorld dropped by 1m visitors.
  • Roly cited a number of animal activities that have been banned (bear baiting, cock fighting, etc.)
  • Society’s morality dial is shifting.
  • We’ll be harshly judged if we allow economics to come first.
  • Trust is the most important driver.
  • We need to embrace the publics values or have good reason not to. 

adjective: responsible

  • 1.
    having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone, as part of one’s job or role.”
  • We must tell the world what we’re doing,
  • Be open-minded and keep learning.
  • We must pull together – Team Equestrian -,
  • Pull together & pick up the pace.

[I’m sticking my neck out here, but a couple things made me realise that Inviting Roly to our Annual Course discussion was a good move.]

A Panel Q&A followed:

  • I asked Roly what ‘Team Equestrian’ was doing. [It sounds to me rather like good words and not entirely clear action….yet]
  • Lord Benyon was asked about Riding School Rates reduction. [Well, he’s a politician]
  • David Mountford was asked about stud books. He spoke about separating ID certificates from Breed Certificates.


Opportunities & Challenges for the Future of the Equestrian Sector 

Claire Williams, Executive Director BETA

BETA National Equestrian Survey 2023 – initial findings

  • There was a lot of data on the screen, which can be found on BETA website:
  • There’s a 1% increase in people engaging with horses in some form.
  • 3.2m riders in UK, of which 1.82m ride regularly.
  • Private ownership is down 1.2% – 374,000 in total.
  • The professional horse owning population has decreased (mainly due to the demise of riding schools.
  • 6m households contain at least one ‘lapsed’ rider – the main reason cited that it’s become unaffordable.
  • 51% of those lapsed riders are keen to return.
  • 66% of riders expect to spend more on their riding.
  • 33% will reduce competitions to save money.


James Hick, CEO BHS

Riding is at risk – Adressing the sustainability of our UK Riding Schools

  • The Transition Fund has achieved 1000 Stage 2 passes. [F&I members did wonder how many were actually employed in the sector?]
  • More than 1.5m fewer riding lessons took place last year.
  • There are 250 (15%) fewer riding schools.
  • Demand is stronger [Is that simply because there are fewer Riding Schools catering for the existing demand?]
  • The staff crisis and retiring proprietors appear to be a major factor affecting the demise of the Riding Schools.
  • Non-ridden horse activities have increased from 68 in 2018 to 231 in 2022. 
  • We must address the workforce crisis.
  • The 2023 reduction in the rateable value of riding establishments should be of help.
  • Industry needs to promote the holistic benefits of engaging with horses and the range of opportunities available.
  • 1440 people applied for the BHS Training Fund 
  • Riding is at risk. 
  • We must collaborate and raise our collective voice to share the benefits of riding and interacting with horses.


Jane Holdsworth, Proprietor Radway Equestrian 

Julia Coles, Proprietor Pony Magic

Opening a new riding school is possible!

  • Both speakers have recently opened new Riding schools, which are two very different models. One, a traditional Riding School, as most of us would know it, the other catering solely for 2 – 8 year olds.
  • They spoke about the challenges: Funding, Licence application, sourcing horses & ponies and the support they received, especially from BHS.


Equine Health

Prof Celia Marr, Chair, British Equestrian’s Equine Infectious Disease Action Group (EIDAG)

Equine Infectious Diseases – reducing the risk together 

  • During the 2019 UK Equine Influenza, 228 outbreaks were recorded. 
  • France only recorded 62, Germany 33, Holland 58 and Ireland 84, so we were affected much more than any other country.
  • The racing industry was commended for its swift action and immediate shut down.
  • The causes appear to be a poor vaccination rate in our equine population and increased movement too soon after a reduction in cases.
  • We did not do well.
  • We can’t remove the risk, but we can do more to mitigate it.
  • We can’t rely on racing to take the lead. There needs to be a shared responsibility, education and multiple interventions.
  • EIDAG has produced a document of advice notes for equine gatherings, which will be regularly updated.
  • There are 4 different ’Flu vaccination strategies for owners.
  • EIDAG assisted BS in the return of horses from Valencia in March, taking lessons from racing.
  • ‘Track, Isolate, Trace’ [Interesting acronym?🤔]
  • We now have a blood test, which is more accurate than a nasal swab.
  • EIDAG has introduced a policy for conserving vaccine stocks (higher risk, higher priority)
  • Are we in a better place now?
  • There certainly was less coordination in 2019, though the BEF did respond rapidly.
  • Much work has been done in ‘peacetime’, which has facilitated prompt decision making in the future.
  • We still need Education, Behaviour Change, Surveillance, Preventative Medicine and Improved Management Structures.


Dr Claire Stratford, Principal Veterinary Adviser, Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

CANTER – Controlling ANTiparasitic Resistance in Equines Responsibly.

  • Anthelmintic resistance is a growing problem.
  • There are no new anthelmintics currently available.
  • There is no reversion to susceptibility.
  • This will have critical health and welfare consequences.
  • In 2021 there was an Equine Stakeholder Workshop to try to achieve coordination.
  • There is now increasing engagement from industry, with stakeholder meetings and facilitated discussion on anthelmintic resistance.
  • Historically, wormers have been too readily available with a lack of advice.
  • Resistance is a critical health and welfare issue.
  • Coordinated action is essential.
  • The CANTER group is a voluntary pan-industry group, working in the interests of the equine industry.
  • They can provide education and research and address the core problems.
  • Best Practice Guidelines, Diagnostics, Research, & Communication.
  • A consistent ‘Single Source of Truth’.


Phew – Lunch!

Mandy Luesley, Carol Bennitt and I were honoured to be introduced to HRH the Princess Royal as representatives of the F&I Association.

She was charming, outspoken, entertaining and curious, as ever.

I fear she may not have had time for lunch.

[Many thanks to Tracy Casstles for shoving something under my nose, or I, too would have gone without – so many fascinating people to talk to and precious little time!]


How to Tackle Unwanted Behaviours 

Dr Gemma Pearson, Director of Equine Behaviour, the Horse Trust

Using Learning Theory to support Change

Hannah Bryant and Gavin

Case Study – How to train your dragon

  • Dr Pearson explained the principles of Learning Theory.
  • She gave examples of Non-associative Learning, Habituation, Sensitising, Negative Reinforcement, Operant Conditioning (positive/negative reinforcement) and Classical Conditioning (Pavlovs dogs).
  • Stroke or scratch the neck – don’t pat!
  • How these techniques can be utilised in riding, such as training the subtle seat aid over a more obvious leg or rein aid. The example of Natural Horsemanship was cited.
  • “You get the behaviour that you reinforce – not necessarily the one you want!”
  • An example of a horse that moved away from the mounting block and how it was retrained was shown on video.
  • The case study with Hannah Bryant and her horse, Gavin, was quite lengthy, but diligently documented.
  • Dr Pearson also referenced Dr Sue Dyson’s Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram.


Topical Slots

Hugh Thomas, Chairman Equine Fitters Council

Launch – Equine Fitters Council & Directory

  • [Yes, Hugh Thomas of Badminton fame in an interesting reincarnation!]
  • A working party from the Worshipful Company of Saddlers and of Loriners has formed a not-for-profit register of professionals to ensure correct fitting of tack (his generic term) by trusted fitters.
  • The object is to maintain Social Licence, looking at the physical and mental wellbeing of horses.
  • “Those who work with horses should be professionally competent.”
  • The Directory is subject to regulation.
  • Its aim is to set and evolve standards, to check CPD, insurance, etc.
  • It will be officially launched this summer.

Jo Paul, President Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners (RAMP)

RAMP – Developing solutions 

  • As above, a new voluntary register, this time of musculoskeletal practitioners.
  • Currently, there are 530 RAMP members, 1000 qualified practitioners (not RAMP) and 4000 or more practitioners who may have simply done an online course.
  • RAMP members must have full insurance, including public indemnity and evidence 25 hours of CPD annually.


Influencers & their Responsibilities Across the Media

[This next section provided a timely introduction for F&I Members to the Social Media training dates that BHS Education has provided for members. Please do join us and sign up for one of them:

9 March 12.30 – 1.30

13 March 6.30 – 7.30

23 March 6.30 7.30.]

Rhea Freeman, Founder Rhea Freeman PR

The Outreach of Social Media

  • Rhea believes that our industry is behind the curve:
  • “We need to do better.”
  • Riders are losing out on sponsorship.
  • We need to be more aware of how to work with brands.
  • It’s free and can be done at any time.
  • How?: 1. Understand; 2. Rules; 3. Promote; 4. Collaborate; 5. Support.
  • We’re missing the boat,
  • We all have a voice,
  • Lets use it well,
  • Theres a lot riding on it.


Eleanor Jones, News Editor Horse & Hound

The development of print and web media


Ashleigh Wicheard, Committee Member & Mentor, Women in Racing

The Emergence of the Influencer

  • Ashleigh is an ambassador for Diversity in Racing.
  • A moving and inspirational video was played of Ashleighs journey to winning the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood and her ‘Taking the Knee’, with the other female jockeys joining in.
  • She is now also a model for the Tommy Hilfiger brand.
  • “I’m not an avid racing fan, I’m a fan of the horses.”
  • Ashleigh is an NLP practitioner.
  • She is involved in inner city equine therapy work.
  • She’s an active Tik-Tok & Insta user, using it to promote her representation as an ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger.
  • She is also currently still working full time in racing.


Panel Discussion and Q&A, led by Roly Owers

  • Roly: “There’s a good audience for Good News Welfare posts on social media.”
  • Ashleigh: “Challenge without being confrontational.”
  • Rhea: “Social media is here to stay. You’re in control. Use it positively. Pull together for the greater good.”


Memorial Lecture

Alec Lochore interview with Charlie Thornycroft

British Equestrians for Ukraine Fund – Providing vital aid to Ukraines equestrian sector.

  • This was an incredibly inspirational and moving piece, where Charlie Described her experience in Poland at the Ukraine border, instigating, administering and running (often single-handed) the equestrian relief effort for Ukraine.
  • She was originally charged with 3 days to write a report and action the relief effort, but ended up staying for 7 months.
  • Many people (including Alice Fox-Pitt and the Pony Club) were raising funds and making donations.
  • Random and diverse supplies were coming in, needing sorting and distributing.
  • -5 degrees temperatures, pipes frozen, horses being turned loose in desperation in Ukraine, as it’s non-EU, so they couldn’t cross the border.
  • The Russians were  monitoring and scrambling phones.
  • Charlie was unloading 40 tonne trucks by hand, with no fork lift and the pallet truck broken.
  • ’Phone communication with the Ukrainian Federation was possible, but speaking English would put them at risk.
  • Charlie spoke no Polish, Ukraine or Russian – relying on Google Translate.
  • Horses were arriving at the temp stabling on the border, sometimes after 72 hour journeys, unable to stop because of the risk.
  • Horse boxes would arrive with bullet holes.
  • Partitions removed to take more horses.
  • They would keep driving until the fuel ran out.
  • She established a logistics compound with temporary stables provided by the FEI.
  • 1000 micro chips were also provided for us chipped horses.
  • The paperwork for transferring from a non-EU country to EU was a nightmare.
  • A few ‘hero vets’ were operating in Ukraine.
  • Catastrophically injured horses couldn’t be euthanised, as bullets were needed for the war effort and Ketamine is banned. 
  • They were being destroyed in the most horrific manner, sometimes battered to death.
  • “Every horse has a family”
  • Charlie told the story of twin girls who arrived with their emaciated TB horse on foot and refused the beds they were offered. She found them sleeping in the stable with their horse, because Russian soldiers had tried to take it from them for food (the soldiers were starving) and the girls had physically fought them off and escaped. One had severe facial injuries.
  • Charlie received a standing ovation from the audience.


Presidents Remarks

HRH The Princess Royal

  • It’s refreshing to hear the truth, as expressed by some of our speakers.
  • To witness best practice.
  • HRH is wary of statistics and data, as evidenced in the case of Citizens Advise, who collated data from all their volunteers, but when it was fed back, it didn’t paint the truth of their actual experience.
  • We should be sure to interpret statistics and data realistically – they don’t necessarily help us to work together.
  • Seek help, approach professionals. Today has highlighted many of them.
  • She was struck by the desire of owners to protect their horses, whatever the cost, as in Ukraine. Would this mean anything to those who question our work and relationships with horses?
  • We need collaboration to promote welfare at all levels.

The Sir Colin Spedding Award

The award is presented to an exceptional unsung hero or heroine of the equestrian world. 

Any individual or organisation from any equestrian field in the UK is eligible, as long as their outstanding qualities have not been formally acknowledged elsewhere.

This year, Princess Anne presented the award to Charlotte Thornycroft, which was extremely well received by the audience.


My Thoughts in Conclusion 

  • I haven’t been able to attend for some years and I was struck by how fortunate we are to have this unique occasion available to us at such a high level.
  • If you haven’t been, make the effort, if you want to be current in our industry.
  • Thanks to the F&I Association for gifting two tickets to members.
  • I would love to know which members attended remotely and whether I missed any members who were there (apologies if I did!)
  • If you doubted it before, it’s now absolutely clear that Safeguarding Equines (SLO) is at the top of any agenda where horses are involved and I’m so happy that F&I has really taken a lead on this.
  • Collaboration is the only way for our industry to thrive. 
  • We must be vigilant in seeking out every opportunity to pull the diverse strands of the horse world together.

Report by Danny Anholt FBHS
2nd March 2023