Racing started as the sport of Kings. Social approval was something that was granted to racing by association from the very start. But in recent times with social media, the growing conscience of Gen Z and increased awareness of animal rights all that has begun to change rapidly. Janet Douglas has published a very interesting new review “What can Equestrian Sports Learn from Other Industries?” (Animals 2022, 12, 1987). Social license to operate is an intangible agreement between the public and those in an industry to operate.
Public opinion can swing from adulation, to approval, to the public completely withdrawing support. At this point intense regulations or bans become inevitable. A number of high-profile scandals in recent years have seriously impacted horse racing industry. Racing is currently at high risk of losing the support of the general public. Now is a critical time for racing and for the wider equestrian sports world. The USA have been one of the first to legislate for better welfare, the new HISA regulations coming into effect as of January 1st are one of the most holistic, comprehensive set of regulations yet to be introduced. HISA is bringing the focus to where it should be, on the experience and outcomes of horses participating in racing. Increasing regulation however can often be unpopular. Bridging the gap between the regulators at the top and the trainers on the ground will be the difference between success and failure.
Change is always tough. For it to be effective, all stakeholders need to be got on board. It is important to work with everyone involved to get the best outcome. Good communication, technology to reduce paperwork and education will be key. The most important winner here is ultimately the horse.