Researcher: Horse Sports Risk Losing ‘Social License’

Smartphones and social media make sharing negative moments with horses—in context or not—easy. How the general public responds can have a lasting impact on the equine industry.
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Researcher: Horse Sports Risk Losing
Smartphones and social media make sharing negative moments with horses—in context or not—easy. How the general public responds can have a lasting impact on the equine industry.| Photo: iStock

British dressage star Charlotte Dujardin gets eliminated for having blood on her horse’s flank. Leading Dutch dressage rider Anky van Grunsven is photographed with her horse in rollkur (hyperflexion). Someone shoots a photo of an Arabian born with a nose so dished it can hardly breathe. Reports of 22, then 30, then 37 racehorses euthanized after sustaining catastrophic injuries on a California racetrack. And, most recently, a video shows the U.K.’s Jack Pinkney seemingly guiding his eventing horse into a wall.

Anything that can be criticized in the world of horse sport is subject to criticism by the public, an expert in equine-sector social issues warns. Someone, somewhere, always has a camera and a social media account. The images will be distributed and analyzed, criticized, and harshly judged by not only the equestrian public but also the general public. The result? A risk that equine sport itself might no longer “be allowed” to exist, said Julie Fiedler, who’s working toward a master’s in communication (research) at the Appleton Institute of Central Queensland University, in Adelaide, Australia.

Welcome to the world of “social license to operate (SLO).” Long-known in other fields such as mining and banking, social license to operate is now a part of the equestrian world—and Fielder believes it’s powerful enough to change the horse industry

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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