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Ethical equitation. Ethical equitation: Capping the price horses pay for human glory.

McLean, A., McGreevy, P.D., 2010. Ethical equitation. Ethical equitation: Capping the price horses pay for human glory. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 5, 203-209.


Ethical equitation is nowadays coming into sharp focus in equestrian culture. Concerns surround the ethics of sports based on controlling an animal’s locomotory responses and in using animals such as horses in sport in general. Anthropomorphically labelled misinterpretations of the responses of trained horses, such as the use of terms like “mad,” “lazy,” “keen,” and “stubborn,” may be detrimental to optimal equine welfare. Similarly, the concept of the “equine athlete” may imply an ill-informed teleological explanation of the motives of the horse in sport. Despite problems in identifying the happy horse, rewarding optimal welfare and the absence of critical stress responses in performance horses is an important step forward.

Horse racing is the source of many welfare concerns because of the use of the whip and the physical dangers to horses involved in hurdle racing and steeplechasing. The use of the whip in racing is controversial and, because it does not always lead to acceleration, problematic. There is a pressing need for learning theory to be adopted in all equestrian pursuits, because such an approach would obviate the need for whips, punishment, and the use of fear in escape learning. In other disciplines, practices such as hyperflexion and soring have a significant potential to compromise the welfare of the horse in sport.

The future of horse sports should involve abandoning the mandatory use of primitive control devices, such as curb bits, that have a real potential to cause harm. International governing bodies and national equestrian federations ought to proceed with removing any requirements to use curb bits and judges should reward riders who use the most humane control devices at the higher levels of competition.

Finally, horse breeding should also be scrutinized under an ethical spotlight. Selecting horses on the basis of temperament has inherent risks, including lowered motivation of riders and trainers to refine their training skill set, which may also lead to significant wastage. Pure breeding risks the health and welfare of horses owing to increases in homozygous deleterious genes expressing themselves