Allen K, Anderson L, King M, Mullan S. Competing interests at the heart of equine sports medicine ethics: A scoping review and thematic analysis. Equine Vet J. 2023;

Blea JA. Responsible use of medication in performance horses/racehorses. In Proc Am Assoc Equine Pract. 2020; 66:379-82

Brown B, Cardwell JM, Verheyen KL, Campbell ML. Testing and refining the ethical framework for the use of horses in sport. Animals. 2023; 13:(11)

British Equestrian Trade Association. National equestrian survey 2019. 2019.

British Horseracing Authority. Data shows further decrease in breaches of whip rules. 2016.

Campbell MLH. An ethical framework for the use of horses in competitive sport: theory and function. Animals (Basel). 2021; 11:(6)

Campbell MLH. Animals, ethics and us.Sheffield: 5m Publishing; 2019

Davies E, McConn-Palfreyman W, Williams JM, Lovell GP. A narrative review of the risk factors and psychological consequences of injury in horseracing stable staff. Comp Exer Physiol. 2021; 17:(4)303-317

Douglas J, Owers R, Campbell MLH. Social licence to operate: what can equestrian sports learn from other industries?. Animals (Basel). 2022; 12:(15)

Duncan E, Graham R, McManus P. ‘No one has even seen… smelt… or sensed a social licence’: animal geographies and social licence to operate. Geoforum. 2018; 96:318-327

Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission, International Equestrian Federation. Equestrian stakeholder survey, 2022. 2022.

Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission, International Equestrian Federation. 24 recommendations. 2023.

Furtado T, Preshaw L, Hockenhull J How happy are equine athletes? Stakeholder perceptions of equine welfare issues associated with equestrian sport. Animals (Basel). 2021; 11:(11)

Gehman J, Lefsrud LM, Fast S. Social license to operate: Legitimacy by another name?. Cdn. Public Adm. J. 2017; 60:293-317

Hemsworth LM, Jongman E, Coleman GJ. Recreational horse welfare: the relationships between recreational horse owner attributes and recreational horse welfare. App Anim Behav Sci. 2015; 165:1-16

Heleski CR. Social license to operate - why public perception matters for horse sport - some personal reflections. J Equine Vet Sci. 2023; 124

Heleski C, Stowe CJ, Fiedler J. Thoroughbred racehorse welfare through the lens of ‘social license to operate’ — with an emphasis on a US perspective. Sustainability. 2020; 12:(5)

Hitchens PL, Ryan K, Koch SI, Scollay MC, Peterson ML. A sustainable structure for jockey injury data management for the North American horse racing industry. Injury. 2019; 50:(8)1418-1422

Mair TS, Janska S, Higham LE. Sustainability in equine veterinary practice: a survey of opinions and practices amongst veterinary teams in the United Kingdom. Eq Vet Ed. 2021; 33:(11)e445-e448

McGreevy PD, McLean A. Behavioural problems with the ridden horse. The domestic horse: The origins, development and management of its behaviour.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2005

McLean AN, McGreevy PD. Ethical equitation: capping the price horses pay for human glory. J Vet Behav: Clinl App Res. 2010; 5:(4)203-209

Mellor DJ. Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” by updating the “Five Provisions” and introducing aligned “Animal Welfare Aims”. Animals (Basel). 2016; 6:(10)

Mellor DJ, Beausoleil NJ, Littlewood KE The 2020 five domains model: including human-animal interactions in assessments of animal welfare. Animals (Basel). 2020; 10:(10)

Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2023.

Prno J, Slocombe DS. Exploring the origins of ‘social license to operate’ in the mining sector: perspectives from governance and sustainability theories. Resour Policy. 2012; 37:346-357

Randle H. Ethical equitation—a sustainable approach. J Vet Beh: Clin App Res. 2010; 4:(5)167-169

Waran N, Randle H. What we can measure, we can manage: the importance of using robust welfare indicators in equitation science. App Anim Beh Sci. 2017; 190:74-81

Warren-Smith AK, McGreevy PD. Equestrian coaches' understanding and application of learning theory in horse training. Anthrozoös. 2008; 21:(2)153-162

West E, Malalana F. Environmental sustainability in the equine veterinary profession. Eq Vet Ed. 2020; 32:(10)508-510

Williams JM, Marlin D. Foreword – emerging issues in equestrian practice. Comp Exer Phys. 2020; 16:(1)1-4

Williams J, Tabor G. Rider impacts on equitation. App Anim Beh Sci. 2017; 190:28-42

Williams J. Performance analysis in equestrian sport. Comp Exer Phys. 2013; 9:(2)67-77

Wolframm IA, Douglas J, Pearson G. Changing hearts and minds in the equestrian world one behaviour at a time. Animals (Basel). 2023; 13:(4)

Equestrianism's social license to operate: assumptions, reality and the future

02 September 2023
14 mins read
Volume 7 · Issue 5
Figure 4. Strip grazing for individual horses is a common management strategy observed on livery yards to prevent injury, which limits social interaction between horses
Figure 4. Strip grazing for individual horses is a common management strategy observed on livery yards to prevent injury, which limits social interaction between horses


Horse sports and equestrian activities are high risk to the horses and people undertaking them. Societal views on using animals for human entertainment are changing and there is increased debate on how animal welfare is safeguarded. Traditional management systems that reduce opportunities for expression of normal behaviour and high levels of disease and injury in horses interacting with humans have increased public scrutiny on the use of horses by humans, resulting in equestrianism's social license to operate being questioned. A social license to operate is a virtual license from society to engage in an activity – without this, the future of equestrianism is under threat. This review explores what constitutes a social license to operate and considers how stakeholders in the equestrian sector could work together to generate an effective social license to operate to ensure horses have a good life in all aspects of their relationship with humans.

Equestrianism is popular worldwide, with millions of horses and riders participating in competitive horse sports and non-competitive leisure riding (Williams and Tabor, 2017). Horse sports and related activities contribute substantially to many global economies including the United Kingdom, where the equestrian sector was reported to have contributed £4.7 billion to the economy in 2019 (British Equestrian Trade Association, 2019). The British Equestrian Trade Association reports that approximately 3 million people regularly ride horses in the UK, with 374 000 horse-owning households. However, despite the continuing popularity of horse riding and horse sports, the high-risk nature of some equestrian activities, combined with the potential for them to cause injury or fatalities to the horses and people participating in them and the increased scrutiny of equine management and training, is resulting in increasing public scrutiny (Campbell, 2021; Douglas et al, 2022; Wolframm et al, 2023). Non-equine stakeholders are questioning humans' right to use horses for leisure and recreational purposes, while equine stakeholders often query if traditional training and management practices are ethical and necessary (Williams and Marlin, 2020; Douglas et al 2022; Brown et al, 2023). This debate has evolved, and the question of how equestrianism demonstrates it has a social license to operate in the modern era is now commonplace across all sectors of the equestrian industry. This review will reflect on what it means to have a social license to operate as a concept. It will also consider the status of equestrianism's social license to operate and what this means for different stakeholders in the equine sector. Finally, the future development of horse sports and their social license to operate will be discussed.

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting UK-VET Equine and reading some of our peer-reviewed content for veterinary professionals. To continue reading this article, please register today.