Tania Millen, BSc, MJ
Eighty per cent of respondents to an online poll conducted by Horse Community Journals Inc. in 2023 identified horse welfare, unwanted horses, irresponsible owners and breeding, and the cost of horse activities, as the top issues facing Canada’s horse industry. The other 20 per cent of respondents were concerned about the aging demographics of industry participants and loss of mentors; lack of new people entering the industry; and loss of equestrian land and trails. The poll garnered 729 responses.
Here are the key issues highlighted by respondents.
- Horse welfare concerns: There is growing awareness that horse welfare must be of paramount concern when riding and training horses, plus during the ‘other 23 hours’ when horses are not interacting with humans. However, lack of knowledge about horse welfare remains. Additionally, application of newfound knowledge about horse welfare through action and altered behavior, is required. There are also wide-ranging concerns about outdated practices and how those practices and a lack of understanding about horse ethology affect the horse industry’s social licence to operate.
- Increased cost and loss of knowledge: Rising costs of hay, coaching, boarding and participation threaten the accessibility of horse ownership and the ability to participate in equestrian activities. Urban sprawl threatens the availability of land and facilities for horse-related activities, impacting accessibility and affordability. Closure of riding schools and diminishing availability of professionals exacerbate this issue. Diminishing mentorship and an aging participant base also pose challenges for the transfer of knowledge and skills within the industry.
- Lack of support for non-competitors: The primary focus of equestrian governing bodies has been on high-performance equestrianism and ‘sport’ which may discourage newcomers and non-competitors from entering the horse industry or continuing to enjoy horses. This ‘sport’ focus also may perpetuate the perception that equine activities are only available to the wealthy or elite.
Solutions proposed by poll respondents to ensure continued equine activities in Canada included the following.
- Educate about horse welfare: Utilize current science to educate horse industry participants and address outdated practices surrounding proper horse care, handling, training and competing. Enforce regulations and minimum standards for horse care and living conditions. Increase education about euthanasia as a solution to end suffering.
- Promote inclusive participation: Encourage participation in the horse industry by diverse groups and individuals. Form partnerships between organizations offering entry-level programming. Develop initiatives to expose youth to horse-related activities and mentorship programs to support newcomers. Advocate for financial support and incentives from provincial and national bodies. Provide financial assistance to organizations offering safe, educational programs.
- Advocacy and awareness: Advocate for horse welfare. Build public awareness of horse welfare practices within equine sport and non-competitive horse activities. Advocate for the use of lands and trails by horses. Increase engagement between equine and non-equine recreational groups.
These broad issues that challenge Canada’s horse industry require solutions that promote understanding of the extent and importance of horses and the horse industry. By identifying these concerns and potential solutions, respondents were expressing their desire for change. Poll respondents were also clear that multi-faceted solutions which ensure positive horse welfare and engage organizations and disparate communities, are imperative to the industry’s continued success.
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Horse Community Journals Inc. proudly serves all sectors of Canada’s horse community by publishing original, award-winning, high-calibre news and investigative journalism. Titles include Canadian Horse Journal, Canada’s Equine Guide, HORSEJournals.com, The Hoofbeat E-Newsletter.