In an Olympic year and with the current spotlight on equine welfare and social license to operate, it is more important than ever to highlight all and any advances in the protection of the horse.

In a groundbreaking move, the Italian government has chosen to officially classify horses as athletes through new legislation, marking a historic milestone in the history of equestrian sport. The decision reached at the conference, ‘Horse Athlete: Protections and Prospects’ and organised by the Italian Equestrian Federation (FISE) in late January, establishes specific criteria for a horse to be recognised as an ‘athlete horse’. These criteria include registration of equines with FISE and a declaration of non-consumption by humans in the event of loss of the horse.

Representatives from organisations such as the FEI, the Italian Ministry of Health, and the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) participated in the conference, where the law was hailed as an opportunity to recognise horses as subjects rather than objects in the sport.

Future advancements

Eleonora Ottaviani, Director of IJRC, highlighted the significance of this legal terminology, stating that for the first time, ‘athletic horse’ or ‘athlete horse’ has become a defined legal term. Roly Owers, CEO of World Horse Welfare, noted that the true measure of success lies in whether it translates into tangible improvements for the well-being of horses. FISE has emphasised that this legislation will serve as a foundation for future advancements in areas such as horse transport and veterinary controls at both national and international levels.

In contrast, show jumping will remain part of the Modern Pentathlon at the Paris Olympics. The 2021 Tokyo Games witnessed a controversial incident involving German athlete Annika Schleu, where her coach, Kim Raisner, forcibly struck the horse Schleu was riding, garnering global media attention. The Guardian newspaper reported in November 2021 that social license pressures had sparked considerations to replace show jumping with cycling in the Olympic-level competition, though this change has not been implemented to date.

In other news, Lithuanian rider Justina Vanagaite became the first high-level dressage rider to compete without spurs at the recent Doha CDI5*, as is now permitted under FEI rules. Vanagaite said quite simply, “why not?”