Delighted to be hosting the ‘Horses in Culture, Society and Law’ Conference on this website.

Following on from the success of this year’s ‘Horses, Society and the Law: Past, Present and Future’ Conference on 11th April 2017 at De Montfort University, DMU_Welcome Leicester, UK, we’ve decided to make this an annual event.  The name change reflects the inter-disciplinary nature of this conference with papers on anthropology to law to penology being submitted this year.  We are now working on a special issue in a respected academic journal to fully showcase those submissions.

There is a new tab on the menu which will take you to the conference site.  We are excited about this development and look forward to many years of exchanging research ideas across disciplines.

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‘Horses for Courses’, The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre giving ex-racers a second career.

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Dame Judy Dench is Patron of the BTRC

I haven’t been online for a while again and I’m still blaming the PhD! I have yet more corrections to do but thankfully only minor ones, by mid October. After that I hope to be providing more regular posts. This time I’m going to flag up the work of my favourite equine charity the BTRC. I support them with financial donations and I have donated a horse to them, I would like to have a greater involvement with them in some capacity in the future and to that end I visited them again recently.

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Gillian Carlisle, CEO

I first heard about the BTRC when I met its current CEO, Gillian Carlisle last year and was struck by her enthusiasm and sector knowledge.  She’d worked with racehorses in HongKong and now ran the operations at the BTRC base in Halton, Lancashire, with some passion and commitment!  The organisation was founded in 1991 by Carrie Humble CBE with fulsome support from Sir Peter O’Sullevan of racing fame until his death in 2015.  They are a registered charity with John Sexton, racing journalist, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Dame Judi Dench as Patron and Frankie Dettori, amongst others, as an ambassador.  Their mission statement says it all really:

‘For the Welfare, Rehabilitation, Retraining and Rehoming of Retired Racehorses’

They don’t just take ex-racers either, sometimes, in the right circumstances they will take any TB that needs to be rehomed, usually with a donation for its upkeep while at the centre.

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Mojo and former ‘pilot’

So why did I pass my much-loved TB ‘Mojo’ to the BTRC and not just sell him?  We’d reached a point where I felt I had hit the limits of my knowledge and expertise to take him any further, we’d gone through the BD levels to Novice but something just wasn’t quite right.  He wasn’t dangerous but he struggled with turns in canter in the arena and my vet and chiropractor couldn’t find an obvious cause.  He was so sweet in the stable (not so much with the farrier!) and I just felt we had ‘stalled’ as a partnership.  I had seen enough TBs being sold on and sold on, eventually going to waste, or worse… so I contacted Gillian and she took him on.  I was safe in the knowledge that once signed over to them he would remain owned by them and, even once loaned out, be subject to their control and checks.  In fact the rehab. process was so thorough that an injury, missed by all the professionals up to that point, was shown up by a detailed examination.  He had one of the worst backs they’d ever seen but he must have had the injury, a kind of fusing of the vertebrae, for so long that he’d probably built up the musculature to support it.  He therefore wasn’t in pain except in very specific elements of a test.  He was passed as fine for a hacker and that’s the type of home he’s gone to after a meticulous process of preparation and checks.  I do wish him well and don’t regret my decision for a minute.

My interest in the BTRC came from more than just mine and Mojo’s situation though.  My research very definitely straddles the worlds of horse racing and the equestrian pursuits in an attempt to bridge what that is an artificial and unhelpful divide.  I have a paper out, published by Springer, that explores these issues:

‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth: regulating for integrity, what equestrianism can learn from Thoroughbred racing’

This research exposes the sports regulation problems that this ‘silo’ mentality and fragmented governance systems can cause and proposes some solutions.  My research isn’t animal welfare focused per se but as a lawyer and criminologist, I’m unhappy with the position that this fragmentary approach to rule-making leaves the human element of the sporting team in.  I’m now working on research into what the advent of cloning will mean as it arrives on this patchwork scene of sports regulation.  This is also a great area for inter-disciplinary research.  The ‘Equine Cultures in Transition’ Conference I attended in Stockholm in October 2016 and the ‘Horses, Society and the Law’ Conference we held at De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester, in April show that.  Disciplines as varied as anthropology, law, sociology, even dance and photography showcased their academic research at these events.  We aim to rename the DMU conference, ‘Horses in Culture, Society and Law’, host the website on this site (see the new menu tab) and make it an annual event.

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A TB at the BTRC’s Halton HQ

The BTRC isn’t concerned with sports governance but it does have to deal with a vast array of sports governing bodies at one time or another all with their own rules, received truths and practices.  For instance the youngest age at which a horse can be competed is very different for the BHA compared to most FEI sports and that is a debate which will run and run.  Some SGBs have a very coherent approach to re-homing ex-competition horses and where the money required can be sought.  Some have little or no discernible policies on the matter.  The BTRC takes horses from racing and prepares them for life in the equestrian disciplines.  In an animal welfare context, the organisation and its staff have to live in both worlds and provide a platform for potential co-operation, it’s a model that I can get on board with.

 

 

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‘May’ I mention foxhunting?

 So I haven’t posted for the longest time, but in my defence I’ve had PhD corrections to do and without a shadow of a doubt that’s made this last year of teaching the toughest in my 21 year career in education.  If any of you out there are thinking of doing a PhD, think again, and then a third time, and then a fourth and a fifth, if you still have the ‘fire in the belly’ then do it and don’t look back.  Churchill is supposed to have said ‘if you’re going through Hell…keep going’, that one will be useful for you I can assure you.  I’ll let you know if it was all worth it when I have my final result.

Anyway, to the subject of this post, I’ve been thinking about doing a piece on fox hunting for some time but with an election imminent and fox hunting back on the political agenda this seems to be the moment. Yet again this sport is being used as ammunition by politicians who give the impression they know very little about it. The Countryside Alliance and other pro-hunting lobbies want to see the back of the Hunting Act 2004 and at least the relaxation of the rules on hunting animals with dogs. Unsurprisingly, Theresa May’s Conservative Party (do you see what I did there?), nervous about a hung Parliament, has seized on that as a vote winner in rural areas. This has the left wing, in particular the Labour Party using the issue as a stick to beat the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn recently referring to the sport as ‘barbarous’ apparently.

I want to talk about this from the point of view of an ordinary common-or-garden horse rider, I know a lot of those and I know a lot of them who go hunting, ‘following the hounds’.  I’ve been doing the same a couple of times a year for the past 17 years myself. I’m also a socialist, a member of the Labour Party, the thing is I don’t ‘get’ the hunting debate because I have never, ever and never would hunt foxes and most of the horse riders I know who go hunting wouldn’t either. They’re not ‘posh’ either by the way, most leisure riders are in my experience keeping horses on a shoestring, doing without cars on HP and foreign holidays for the love of horses.  The puzzle is I don’t hear the point about it not really being about foxes at all in the rhetoric from either side.  The hunts I ride with use bloodhounds following a pre-laid scent, not foxhounds and bloodhounds that couldn’t catch a cold by the way.  I’ve lost count of the time spent waiting for the ‘whipper in’ to go and find the floppy-eared canines that were lost somewhere.  I have also personally witnessed the pack stand stock still when commanded ‘hold’, to let a hare run right through the middle of them, and that’s exactly what they did.  This is the thing, the point of hunting is no longer, if it ever was, to kill foxes.  It’s to test the skill of the riders and their courage, not to mention the stamina and manageability of the horses.  The terrain is tough, the pace fast and the ditches, hedges and fences a real challenge.  You have to have some serious cojones to do it  at all and I might add the biggest tend to belong to the women riders, and I’ve seen plenty of humans injured but no defenceless animal prey, none in 17 years.  The pro-hunting lobby like to go on about countryside traditions and ‘townies’ not understanding the ‘country way’.  Sometimes the need to control the fox population comes up, that’s a red herring if ever I encountered one, hunting with hounds on horseback is the least efficient method of pest control I can think of, bar none.

The nub of it all is this, all of the tradition and pageantry that goes with fox hunting, all of the excitement, danger and skill development that was originally gained from hunting animals, can now be had from hunting people.  Volunteers laying a scent of course…much as we would like to be hunting ill-informed, self-serving politicians, that’s frowned upon. So why is this point never made?  Why are the arguments still all centred around such as whether hunting foxes is cruel or not, necessary or not?  When that’s no longer the point of the sport at all?  Perhaps the answer is that those who would gain political advantage would rather not have a debate on the real issues, just on irrelevant ones that are nevertheless easy to print headlines on and raise passions about.  Funny that, hope they don’t do that on any other important social issue………..

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Conferences, past present and future

eq-cu-program-and-abstract-list-webbIn October I had the privilege of being invited to speak at the ‘Equine Cultures in Transition’ International Conference at Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden and I have to say I have never been to a conference quite like it.  The venue was luxurious and historic and the catering and organisation were both second to none, remarkable in itself but what really set this conference apart was the truly inderdisciplinary nature of the symposium.  Who new that horses could form a part of really high level research in disciplines as diverse as sociology, sociological anthropology, photography, choreography, law and gender studies?  The common ground with all the participants was a love and appreciation of the horse and its unique place in contemporary society but the quality of the research and the effort put into designing these studies and mining the corpora of data was inspiring.  Many thanks to Mari Zetterqvist Blokhuis and the team for putting that on.  sodertonI know they are looking for an institution to take this forward next year so if you are interested please do contact Mari at Södertörn.  Participants and speakers came from Canada, the US, Brazil, Australia, the UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland to name a few and the networking opportunities were unmatched if you research with horses.  Many thanks as well to the Equine Research Network (EqRN) for making us all aware of the conference.  You can find them on Facebook as well as the web.  I also discovered the Equestrian Social Science Group through the conference, well worth joining.

soderton-audienceRegular readers of this blog will not be surprised I used the opportunity to present a paper which had a ‘pop’ at the slavish adherence to ‘strict liability’ in integrity regulations in horse sport.  A conference paper in similar vein I gave in 2015 was picked up by a US publishing house who have asked me to submit a book proposal based on my PhD thesis so hopefully my ideas will make it out to a wider audience before too long.

At De Montfort University we are hosting a conference on 11th April 2017 – ‘Horses, Society and the Law: Past, Present and Future’, the call for papers is out and again we aim to make this conference as multi-disciplinary as possible because so many disciplines intersect with the law and shape it.  this is an extract from the call:

Horses may appear to be an anachronistic part of 21st century, mechanised society. But in fact, horses continue to contribute significantly to national economies as well as playing an integral role across many sectors of society, and in so doing are both influenced by and influence the content of the law. This symposium explores the relationship of horses, society and the law across many positions, including, for instance, the use of horses in the rehabilitation of juvenile and adult criminal offenders, the role of the horse in national identity, modern popular culture and cultural heritage, in sport, and in leisure and recreation activities, and in the preservation of public access to bridle paths and other green common areas….

Confirmed keynote speakers include Sophie Wells, OBE (Para – equestrian gold medallist at London and Rio Paralympics) and Dr Georgina Crossman (LOCOG member of staff and National Technical Official at the Rio Paralympics).  Contact the conference administrator, Katie Scott on klscott@dmu.ac.uk or my co-convenor Dr Sarah Sargent at Sarah.Sargent@buckingham.ac.uk for queries on content.

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The End for Equestrianism at the Olympics?

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Rio 2016, the ‘last hurrah’ for horse sport in the Olympics?

This rather nightmarish headline, for those of us committed to horse-sport anyway, is a possibility sad to say. These sports are being ‘evaluated’ based on viewership, social media and outreach to consider whether they should remain in the Olympics, this is as a result of the disappointing figures from the London 2012 Games. Equestrianism in the UK received a boost from the 20 gold medals won by Team GB culminating in that win by Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. Of course this is a Worldwide sport, if somewhat Euro-centric in mindset, so the UK position isn’t necessarily reflected in other countries. Horse sport is ferociously expensive to put on, particularly eventing as it can’t be held in one arena and equestrianism generally has long been plagued by a public perception that it is elitist. There is also a feeling in the Olympic body that particularly eventing and dressage are largely based on the skills required by a 19th Century cavalry soldier and thus these sports are something of an anachronism. It wouldn’t surprise me entirely if the Rio 2016 Olympics I’m watching as I write this were the last Games to have horse sport within it as a discrete discipline.

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Is this how we are seen?….Really?

More generally there is an urban myth, particularly in the UK that to be involved in horse sport, riders and owners have to be wealthy. The ridiculous caricatures in the 2016 ‘Go Compare’ TV advertisement campaign featuring horse riders with ludicrously exaggerated ‘cut glass’ accents are but one symptom of that. This, like many myths is based on some truth. Before the arrival of the motor car it was mostly necessary to be wealthy to own a horse, the better the specimen, the more moneyed the owner generally was, much as it is now with ‘high end’ cars. In the process of my research I considered the changing place of the horse in society and there is no doubt that particularly in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries the horse was a central feature of our economy, they were traded in huge numbers and were the root of a significant body of litigation which later grew into what we now know as consumer rights law. It is unsurprising then that the myth remains that to own horses you have to have money. For those of us owning horses at the amateur level this seems odd in the extreme though. It may be a different matter in the Home Counties but in the bulk of the UK horse owners and riders are conducting their pastime on a shoestring, going without luxuries, sometimes necessities, to keep their horses. We can be fairly safe with the notion that an average leisure horse costs about the same to buy and run as a second hand car.  Of course second hand cars vary enormously in cost but the analogy holds just the same.  Visiting local shows, even county level, I am often struck by how old and beaten up most of the vehicles are yet how pristine and polished the horses and riders mainly turn out to be.  This is all anecdotal of course and ripe for a properly funded research study but it is hard to reconcile the lived everyday experience of an ordinary horse owner with the received truth that horses equals riches and glamour.  Horse racing is traditionally the ‘sport of kings’ but again it wouldn’t take me long to find owners and riders locally scratching everything they can together to keep their horses attending races each week, only a couple of vets bills away from financial ruin.  Of course horse racing, because of its betting component, has grown to have an appeal which transcends class and you don’t have to have an affection for horses to enjoy spectating, the adrenalin rush of gambling does that for many.

I am also struck by the disconnect between my circle and the world of elite horse sport.  World class dressage horses can cost millions of Euros and eventing requires a significant income just to afford the entry fees for competitions.  The predominance of royals, both UK and Middle-Eastern in eventing and show jumping doesn’t help.  It’s not just the gene pool of the animals that seems to matter either, there are a number of families that are synonymous with elite level equestrianism.  Imagine if it were not really feasible to make it in football or rugby unless a player was related to a certain family group?  Of course the sheer cost of owning a top level competition horse is prohibitive for most people but this is also true of an Formula 1 car, however it is possible to make it in F1 racing from very humble beginnings.

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It isn’t medal tallies that determine the ongoing popularity of elite horse sport, it’s viewing figures and social media content, we need to wake up to this.

The concern may not be so acute in horse racing of course because of the completely different way it is funded and how it is a ‘bespoke betting product’.  Elite equestrianism with its traditions however has to deal with the perception of elitism whether or not it is deserved though.  I can remember when showjumping would receive prime time weekend sports TV coverage but that is no longer the case.  Cricket went through this, so did darts and snooker.  For differing reasons the old formats were losing viewing figures and popularity.  The result was a resurgence after a shift in format.  Such as floodlit cricket, broadcasting rights deals and sponsorship on shirts were an anathema to purists but these are now the lifeblood of  20/20 cricket and the Indian Premier League as just one example.  The One Day format is also more conducive to effective and popular TV coverage.  A transformation with similar drivers has happened in snooker and darts too.  I have little doubt that elite equestrian sport has to something similar to address falling viewership, social media and outreach figures if, as I suspect that is what the current scrutiny reveals.  Equestrianism’s ruling class won’t like it of course but the

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‘Half time entertainment’ for equestrian events

time has come for shorter formats intermingled with the equivalent of ‘half time entertainment’ perhaps with some of the trick horsemanship and other riding displays performing that function.  Perhaps betting needs to be encouraged and rules simplified focusing less on purism but more on what is digestible for a TV audience, what will fit between commercials as well.  Dress and tack traditions need to be addressed to encourage sponsorship beyond that provided by the purveyors of    ridiculously expensive riding attire.  We need to persuade airlines and power companies, betting operations and high street fashion brands to sponsor riders and events as a matter of routine to bring in the viewers, the cash and survival.  Major motor manufacturers sponsoring horse trials are a start but only that.  Food for thought I suggest but something must be done if our sports are not to fade to the status of ‘minority interest’ pursuits.

 

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Now Brexit is for real, what next for horse sport?

Brexit

Whether you were a ‘remainer’ or a ‘leaver’ last week doesn’t really matter anymore the fact is we voted to leave. It is just possible that either the Scottish National Party or the overall ‘remain’ majority of Westminster MPs might be able to block implementation of the referendum decision but let’s assume Brexit will happen. There are some other facts, right now there is no functioning government in this country worthy of the name and no credible opposition. The main political parties are in utter turmoil and likely to remain so for some months and none of them appear to have a proper plan in place for this eventuality, make of that what you will. We are likely to have a new Prime Minister by September and quite possibly a general election shortly after that. We may have a different party/ies in power this time next year. It is not surprising then that investors who hold British pounds and share holders who own shares in British companies have been selling them like mad which is why there has been a dramatic fall in the value of both. All of this is because of Thursday’s vote, that much is not in dispute.

What we cannot predict is how fast we can recover and what good things will come out of this. We may be able to trade more freely with the rest of the world, we may be able to have a good trading relationship with what is left of the EU without most of the rules people have been complaining about for decades, we just do not know. The question for us is what does this mean for horse sport? The good news is that the governance of the major sports has very littleGavin - cromwell-thumb-500x375-11960-thumb-500x375-12294 directly to do with the EU. The Olympic sports, show jumping, eventing dressage and Para-dressage together with many other major ones like carriage driving and reining are governed by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) based in Switzerland, they operate globally by the national sports governing bodies (SGBs) like the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) in the UK answering to them. Horse racing is organised on a national level, the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) is the UK SGB for that sport but it also has quite a lot of influence internationally as the oldest racing organisation. There is no international body for horse racing that has the same function as the FEI.  There is some sports law case law that has some basis in EU law but little if any of it is in equine sports.  How limits on the free movement of persons into the UK will affect international sports competitors, owners  and trainers, veterinary personnel and yard workers of course is a very difficult question to answer yet, again it depends on our future relationship with the rest of the EU.

In terms of horse owners and competitors, leisure riders and everyone in between on that spectrum, the repercussions, at least in the short term will probably be much as they are for all sectors. During the early period of uncertainty it is reasonable to expect fewer people in the horse industry to be hiring new staff or making many major purchases. The market in horses at all but the elite level will probably slow down and people will hold off on major projects like buying a new horse box or building, say new ménages and the like. On a day to day basis if the products and services you use are from this country the price should stay much the same but if what you buy comes from overseas, even if it is just coat products or items of tack, these will probably become more expensive because the British pound is worth less now than it was this time last week by quite a margin. In terms of personal finances, which after all affects most of us in terms of owning and maintaining horses, mortgages may become more expensive if the Bank of England raises interest rates to help the economy generally, this is by no means a certain move though. If/when we do leave the EU then holidays are likely to become more expensive and travel generally for competitions etc. on the continent more costly and complicated. If the leavers are right however the long term upward motion of the economy due to being free of the EU might counteract this, watch this space.

Something dramatic and profound happened last Thursday, whether we celebrate it or regret it as individuals the motto ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was never more apt. We are British after all, that’s what we do….

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My ‘Road to Rio’!

 

Sophie W and JM

Sophie Wells MBE at her base in Harby, Notts with JM.

This is of course meant in a vicarious sense because there is more chance of finding rocking horse poo than there is of me qualifying for dressage at the Rio 2016 Games…maybe 2024, ‘if your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough’!!  No, I’m actually referring to our ‘local’ dressage superstar, Sophie Wells MBE from Harby, Nottinghamshire.  Sophie, after Team Gold medal success at London 2012 and 2014 World Equestrian Games, has qualified for Team GB Paralympic Dressage in the Summer and she’s only 26. In Nottinghamshire as well as in the wider horse community we’re all behind her of course as well as all the GB Olympic and Paralympic equestrians in their quest for 2016 participation.

I am lucky enough though to have lessons with Sophie on my TB, Mojo or ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ (should have been ‘[s]He Moves in Mysterious Ways’ if we were going for song lyrics…..) as does my wife, Dawn on her coloured, Miller. I first met Sophie in March and have to say that for someone of relatively tender years yet with so much success already she is very grounded and is also very intuitive as a trainer. She noticed straight away that I wasn’t helping Mojo on 20 metre circles with where I was putting my weight.  In 45 minutes Sophie had helped me to see that it was perfectly possible to guide Mojo in circles and spirals using just my weight and the reins being used only for ‘bend’ getting a much better outline than I had before. Mojo can be a handful so I was glad to be in expert hands.

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Sophie at London 2012

One other thing that helped is Sophie’s voice projection, I’m a bit deaf but I had no trouble even though it was a really windy day. After a spell competing in France and coaching in Belgium Sophie is back now and I’m ready for my next lesson on 21st May.  I had plenty of homework last time, let’s see if it’s paid off.

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In ‘competition mode’.

One of the factors that made me pick equine sports regulation as a research interest and indeed for a PhD thesis topic was the fact that I am active in the sport, albeit very much at grass roots level. This gives me a useful perspective and means I don’t have to have too many ‘head-space’ compartments as work, research and pleasure overlap in a useful, stress-reducing way, so far anyway…

Good luck Sophie, and all the Team GB Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls.

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