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The following article is written by Lisa Ashton, APC


A horse centred lens is not new to horse welfare. The first horse centred lens dates back to 1877 in England and the book Black Beauty. Sewell wanted the reader to see the world from a horse's point of view, helping adults who controlled the lives of horses in 1877 animal welfare horizons lifted. Black Beauty gave birth to the field of Equitation Science, a growing body of knowledge dedicated to seeking the truth about how horses really feel about all our interactions.   With the old gatekeepers of horse welfare losing relevance in 2020,  I am hopeful Equitation Science will one day solve Black Beauty’s problems,  shaping history in a better direction for the horse.  In 2020 the review paper; Sensory Abilities of Horses and Their Importance for Equitation Science paper by Maria Vilain Rørvang, BirteL.Nielsen and Andrew Neil McLean informs the new gatekeepers of welfare

Horses have fallen between the cracks

Black Beauty was a story told from a horse’s perspective, shifting public attention towards animal welfare.  At a time when horse power fuelled almost everything: wars, agriculture, transportation, construction and factory work. Pulled barges, hauled coal and granite, horses were even our measure of wealth; how you rode conveyed a perceived style and stature, today horses have fallen between the cracks.  Unprotected by livestock welfare legislation nor legally recognised as sentient. The 2015 Five Domains model (an upgrade from the Five Freedoms)  recognises animals mental experience of the world. The 5th -  mental domain - rigorously embeds the horses subjective experience to help determine the animals welfare status, also know as quality of life.  In 2020 the five domains model received an upgrade from the Behaviour domain to Behaviour & Interactions with our spotlight on a horses subjective experience of all our interactions. What does the Five Domains Model have in common with Black Beauty? A focus on the subjective experience.   Embedding the Five Domains Model thinking from leisure to sport horses and policy making to legislation is how we earn our social licence (public acceptance) and future proof horse sports.

Progress Over Perfection

The Five Domains model is now adapted and promoted by the International Federation Horseracing Authority and New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and just last month World Horse Welfare 2020 Conference theme was The Horse-Human Partnership - What’s in it for the horse?

143 years on from Black Beauty and sentience is still questioned, yet to be embedded in to law in most countries.  Animal legislation in the UK is still based on the old Five Freedoms. Whilst Animal Welfare Science not fully embedded into Veterinary Curricula.  Or the subjective experience of racehorse in the British Horseracing 2020 Welfare Strategy.  Will the FEI and national equestrian federations lift horse welfare horizons? Adopt the International Federation Horseracing Authority leadership for Equestrian sports?

One Welfare

As people and cultures collide on social media over climate change, mass migration and the world’s ever-increasing complexity, US President Barack Obama states; “...we will either learn to live together, cooperate with one another and recognise the dignity of others, or we will perish. The jury is still out.” 

The extension of the Five Domains model in 2020 to include our interactions shifts our focus towards all our relationships. I believe the pandemic has primed us all for better relationships. With ourselves, with others, with our horses.  Showing up for horses in 2021 is building relationships over transactions.  Transactions miss opportunities to develop our own empathy.  It is time for all horse lovers to sit at the same table.  Share our diverse or outsider eyes, without experiencing negative consequences.  Instead of our toxic ‘calling out’ culture,  can we build  ‘calling in’?  Through the living into the four pillars of social licensing; legitimacy, transparency, communication and trust let equestrians ‘call in’ diversity, inclusivity and equality.  My three horsemen taking equestrians towards future-proofing. Where prosperity is for people, animals and our planet. Because there is only One Welfare.  


Lisa Ashton, APC