It is fair to say that horse racing and dressage are generally akin to the proverbial piece of chalk and a lump of cheese. However, in more recent times both of these equestrian disciplines have come under some rather intense scrutiny. Horse welfare should quite rightly be at the forefront for all who live and work within the equine industry, and there are times when campaigning for improvement in a structured and objective way is a right and necessary step.

Positive change

The spotlight of social licensing and of assorted strong media campaigns has done much to drive positive change in the horse racing industry. This includes improved conditions at the racecourse for the horses, changes to the whip rule, altering the colour and profile of fences and hurdles for greater visibility, improving ground conditions around obstacles, and the use of thermal imaging immediately after racing to detect and treat any injuries or strains.

The general public image of horse racing has benefited from the implementation of some excellent retraining and rehoming programmes, ensuring that there is life after racing for many more horses. There is always room for improvement, but transparency and open conversation around finding solutions is just as important as highlighting the problems.

Underhand practices

This is where dressage is currently falling down. As always, the few spoil it for the many. The release of the Danish TV2 documentary Operation X at the end of 2023 revealed cruel and underhand practices being employed to fast track the sale of dressage horses from the Helgstrand stable in North Jutland, Denmark.

Understandably, there continues to be a huge backlash against the documentary findings, but there has also been a dramatic uprising of self-professed experts on social media who seem intent on condemning the sport as a whole.

Evolve and improve

Dressage has, like horse racing, had many questions to answer over the years. As we collectively learn and understand more, we must all strive to evolve and improve. Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin have been an example to all. Their horses enjoy plentiful turnout and a varied work routine.

Along with riders such as Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl (the current Olympic champion), stalwarts of the sport such as Isabel Werth, Carl and Charlotte are using social media to demonstrate transparency in their training methods and overall horse management. We must celebrate the good along with condemning the bad, or horse sport as a whole surely faces a difficult future.