FEI President Ingmar De Vos said "it is time to confirm and to redefine this unique and natural relationship between the human and the horse" ©Getty Images

International Equestrian Federation (FEI) President Ingmar De Vos has expressed hope that a new Commission established to develop a framework addressing concerns related to the use of horses will "redefine this unique and natural relationship between the human and the horse".

The independent Commission features five members classed as external experts, including chair Professor Natalie Waran of New Zealand, and five representatives of the FEI to provide an athletes' and officials' viewpoint.

It is due to hold its first meetings this month.

Equestrian sports came under the spotlight at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, most notably due to the scandal in the women's modern pentathlon competition which led to German coach Kim Raisner being sent home in disgrace after being filmed punching the horse Saint-Boy.

That prompted the International Modern Pentathlon Union, the sport's governing body, to drop riding from its competitions after Paris 2024, with two variations of the obstacle discipline set to be tested to replace it. 

The horse Jet Set was put down due injuries sustained during the cross-country section of the Olympic eventing contest in the Japanese capital.

Speaking to insidethegames, the FEI President said he believes the Commission is required to address current and future concerns.

"I think that it is time to confirm and to redefine this unique and natural relationship between the human and the horse," he said.

"I think that in a society which is more and more urban, not everybody understands this unique relationship between the human and horse, and also of course society has changed over the years.

"That's why I also say redefine it, because things that were acceptable let's say 50 years ago are not any more today, so I think it's very important to do this work and to have it done in a proactive way by an independent Commission that is composed on the one hand of a number of high-level experts, and on the other hand also of course some representatives of our community.

"So the goal is to redefine this relationship and to explain to people why we can work with horses, why we can train with horses, why we can compete with horses, and under what circumstances."

De Vos, who has been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 2017, insisted that the Commission would be given the ability to provide recommendations on horse welfare improvements.

An interim report is due to be presented at the FEI General Assembly in Cape Town in November 2022, where De Vos is set to re-elected for a third and final four-year term as President as the only candidate for the role he has held since 2014.

Horse welfare issues came under the spotlight at Tokyo 2020 following the scandal involving the horse Saint-Boy in the modern pentathlon competition ©Getty Images
Horse welfare issues came under the spotlight at Tokyo 2020 following the scandal involving the horse Saint-Boy in the modern pentathlon competition ©Getty Images

A second report is scheduled at the FEI Sports Forum in April 2023, with a final report to be submitted for approval at next year's General Assembly in Mexico.

"It is an independent Commission and we have clearly given them the liberty and freedom to define their work," the Belgian official said.

"What we are asking them is to create what I call - and of course they will give it maybe another name - but what I call a charter that explains this relationship, that explains what we can do, how we can do, and with that of course if necessary recommendations to further improve our rules and regulations.

"But also I think it is very important once this charter is established is to communicate this to the broader society, again to explain why we can work, compete, train with horses, what is so unique in this relationship.

"The uniqueness of this relationship is basically that without the bond between the human and the horse, there is no horse.

"That's something that we want to explain, and also communicate to broader society, but also to our own community.

"We want to explain what can be done, how it can be done, under what conditions and also clearly explain things that are not acceptable, that there is zero tolerance and there are really strong sanctions."

A French National Assembly study group chaired by Loïc Dombreval earlier this year published a report with 46 recommendations to improve equine welfare at Paris 2024.

These included improving control of excessive tightening of nosebands and curb chains, less whipping in competition and feeding horses hay several times each day.

De Vos insisted that the FEI had already implemented most of the recommendations in its competitions, but that the Commission would have access to the study group's report and a range of studies to take into consideration.

"This Commission is composed of high-level people and of course they are aware of several initiatives that are taken in this field," he said.

Ingmar de Vos said
Ingmar de Vos said "the huge majority of" recommendations from Loïc Dombreval's study group on horse welfare for Paris 2024 were already implemented by the FEI ©Getty Images

"Initiatives not only from this French Member of Parliament, Mr Dombreval, which is his own initiative, I would say it is not an initiative of the French Parliament, it's a personal, private initiative of a Member of the French Parliament.

"I must say that when we look at these recommendations, the huge majority of them are already in the FEI regulations.

"But yes of course we share all the available documents and studies also from universities and initiatives with this Commission so that they are fully documented and are fully aware of what is happening in the world."

Professor Kathalijne Visser-Riedstra, Dr Camie Heleski, Dr Madeleine Campbell and Jessica Stark complete the line-up of external experts on the Commission, while European Equestrian Federation President and FEI Board member Theo Ploegmakers and FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez are among the International Federation's representatives.

De Vos argued that this composition of the Commission would ensure it produces more robust findings.

"That's mainly I would say for reasons of credibility," he said.

"If we do it ourselves then it will be seen as biased, as selfish even, and it would be mainly done just to justify ourselves.

"We do not want to do that, we want to be objective, we want an independent Commission looking into this and maybe identifying fields where we need to improve and establish recommendations to make further changes to our rules and regulations, so that's why it needs to be independent because it needs to be credible for the outside world.

"We want also some experts to look at it from their perspective.

"We ourselves looking at this are maybe coming to conclusions that are not as objective as they should be."