Horses in Culture, Society and the Law Conference 19th September 2018 – Call for Papers, Extended Deadline!

We have had some interesting work in to consider for our panel at the Second Annual Conference at the University of Buckingham this year. To make the themes as varied as possible however, we have decided to extend the deadline for abstracts to 15th July.

Even if you have never given a paper before at a conference this is a great opportunity to submit something and possibly have it published in the Denning Law Journal. Please send your abstracts of around 300 words to Sarah Sargent by email – .

We look forward to seeing you there!

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‘Rogue one’…well I’ve been called worse…

Way back in December 2015 I posted a few thoughts about the rise of cloning in equine sports and the regulatory or legal problems that might cause. That was a strand of my PhD research back then, a bit ‘out there’ but nothing wrong with being ahead of the curve I say! In the end it was extracted due to lack of space and became a paper in our inaugural ‘Horses in Culture, Society and Law’ Conference in April 2017. I can now announce the publication of that work in a Contemporary Issues in Law Special Edition in March 2018, edited by myself and Dr Sarah Sargent. It is rubbing shoulders with some first rate research from the USA, Iceland and the UK and I reproduce here the abstracts from our papers. Of course, I have to give another plug to our upcoming 2018 Conference at the University of Buckingham in September!

‘Attack of the Clones’: Problematising equine sports integrity regulation on the ascendancy of the genetically copied athlete.

Dr Jonathan Merritt

Cloned horses are already here and competing; this article considers in turn, both the challenges and the unprecedented opportunities for the development of human athlete regulation that the current participation of cloned equines in elite sport presents.
The arrival of the cloned human athlete has hitherto been considered as a future ‘spectre’ beset with potential sports ethics dilemmas. This paper argues however, that the Kuhnian state of crisis that sports integrity will be thrown into by the advent of the human clone will bring about a paradigm shift of epic proportions. There is however, the opportunity to learn from the regulatory mistakes of the past and shape the guidelines for human clones by regulating their equine counterparts effectively now. The current hegemony is that integrity regulation for one species, man, can be applied to another, horses, with little substantive amendment and be effective. The first sport of any kind to incorporate anti-doping measures into its rules was thoroughbred racing. In the early 1900s racehorses were subject to dope tests because of fears that they were being given cocaine. Human athlete sports followed suit and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code is the ultimate development of that thinking. Examples cited are the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) regulations and to a different degree the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) rules developed independently from WADA.

None of this has resulted in a satisfactory situation as this paper will demonstrate. The better results are achieved by careful species-specific drafting well in advance of technological change, not struggling to keep up with innovation.

Before and after Mirvahedy v Henley: the history, controversy and practice of strict liability regarding damage by horses.

Carrie De Silva

The 21st century has seen considerable court activity on the interpretation of legislation passed some decades ago, the Animals Act 1971. This ascribes strict liability in certain circumstances for death or personal injury involving equines (and other animals), with most disputes centering on section 2(2 ). Although there had been a number of important cases before, Mirvahedy v Henley in the House of Lords in 2003 gave rise to particular concerns. Since then, the body of case law has quelled much of the uncertainly and the appetite for statutory amendment has died down. The jurisprudence of strict (although not, of course, absolute) liability remains controversial in some quarters however and this article encompasses a wider consideration of strict liability. There is an exploration of the historical development of the law in this area from Biblical references, the common law of scienter and the introduction, and application, of the 1971 Act, along with other potentially applicable law.

Further, the paper considers the comparative position across the USA where, state by state, there are a range of ‘equine liability’, ‘equine activity’ and ‘recreational use’ statutes. These, in some cases, give more weight to the position offered in the section 5(2) defence under the Animals Act 1971, i.e. that the claimant voluntarily accepted the risk .

Establishment and Downfall of a Horse Based Cluster Initiative in Northwest Iceland

Assistant Professor Ingibjorg Sigurdardottir and Professor Ronolfur Smari Steinthorsson

Discussion of research from a wide range of disciplines is of paramount importance in relation to socio-legal research. This paper provides an analysis of research related to the horse industry in Iceland, a country with an ancient and deeply embedded horse culture and a large number of equines and horse owning people.

Interest in the cluster approach has been increasing in Iceland in the last few years, particularly following the financial crisis in 2008. On a regional basis the cluster development has been supported through Regional Growth Agreement (RGA) funds that have been available for suitable local projects. In the RGA for the Northwest of Iceland, there was emphasis on cluster development within existing industries, including the horse industry.

A group of 23 operators of horse related businesses did in 2009 establish a joint effort named “Hyruspor”, which was successful in getting RGA grants to start a formal collaboration, which can be seen as a cluster initiative. But the effort was short lived and did not reach its goals to strengthen the horse industry and the horse related activities in the region. In this research the inquiry aims to reveal what factors can explain the downfall of effort “Hyruspor”? Secondary material was reviewed and open-ended interviews with seven founders of the effort were conducted. Findings indicate that one of the main motivations for the establishment of the initiative was the possibility of getting RGA funds. The leading founders were interested in the project but the commitment of partners was fragile and therefore it is questionable whether the joint effort can be regarded as a cluster initiative. The common conditions and basis for the effort was thin and important resources were lacking including support from leading members which did restrict further development. Vested interests lead to disunity within the group. The project did not deliver an expected quick gain and came short in providing the leadership and facilitation that was needed.

Mustang Denizen: Re-imagining the Wild Free – Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971

Dr Karen Dalke

This article considers the effect of public perception, of social construction, on the treatment of wild equines. In particular, on how they are regulated and how that regulation is carried out.

Millions of wild horses, descendants of those reintroduced by Spanish explorers, roamed the landscape long before the United States carved out state and national borders. As the nation grew, and people moved west, wild horses began to be viewed as intruders on the land they had always occupied. There was still a need for horses at this time and many mustangs were captured and trained for riding or farm work. By the early 1900s, general reliance on horses dwindled as they were replaced by machines. Wild horses became competitors for forage as populations, ranching and mechanization grew in the West. Two world wars contributed to excess wild horses rounded up for meat and sent to war-torn Europe. These brutal and inhumane roundups by mustangers persisted for much of the twentieth century.

In the early 1950s, the last massive roundup by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the government department responsible for maintaining rangelands, resulted in the capture of more than 70,000 wild horses. Since they were not owned by anyone, these wild horses had no protections and were mistreated and slaughtered. Campaigning and a public outcry for humane treatment culiminated in 1959 with Public Law 86-234, (the “Wild Horse Annie Act,” – after a prominent campaigner) prohibiting the use of motorised vehicles to hunt wild horses and burros on public lands. It soon became apparent that Federal protection and management was essential. Continued efforts resulted in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, citing these animals as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West…‘. Moderate voices advocated multiple use of public lands and humane treatment, but battle lines emerged between those who sought to eradicate wild horses and others who wanted complete protections for them with no controls. This battle continues to wage. As of March 1, 2016, 67,027 wild horses and burros roam BLM managed lands, while another 44,580 are in long and short-term holding facilities. Care of the animals in holding facilities consumes almost 60% of the program’s budget and receives far less attention than horses living on public lands. Calls for mass slaughter have been proposed and offer a quick solution to holding facilities at near capacity.

An overarching issue plaguing wild horses and burros is perception. One camp wants to treat them as part of the natural wildlife while the other views them as pests that should be eliminated. The mustang is not wild or domestic, it is a liminal animal. These types of animals have been highly successful in evolutionary adaptation, but also suffer great injustices. This article seeks to explore whether two opposing camps mired in a complex history of distrust, can find common ground utilising the concept of ‚denizenship‘.

Download the full edition, Issue 3, Volume 14, here.

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Call for Papers, 2018 ‘Horses in Culture, Society and Law’ Conference

The Call for Papers for the 2018 session of this exciting multi-disciplinary equine conference is available by clicking on the Conference ‘tab’ above or click here.

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Confirmed – 2018 Conference is to be at the University of Buckingham!

The second annual ‘Horses in Society, Culture and the Law’ Conference will be held in September 2018 at the University of Buckingham, UK.  More details are available on the conference page (top right tab above).  Dr Sarah Sargent and I are excited to be working on a Call for Papers as well as invitations to first rate keynote speakers.  Also look out for the journal special edition drawing from the 2017 submissions, details soon!

U of Buck
The University of Buckingham offers excellent facilities and a superb location as well as easy access by road, rail and air.



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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.


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.


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.

me n moj

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.


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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