Expert Commentary: The Social License

01.03.2017 - by Dr. Hanfried Haring, EEF President

What on earth is that? Another attempt to squeeze money out of us?

No, you cannot buy a Social License. Nevertheless it is the most important one - maybe also the most expensive one in a wider sense - for our sport at all!  

“Social License” means the general acceptance of society that what we are doing with the horse as our partner in life and sport enjoys social legitimacy, credibility and trust. Hence, the Social License is granted by the community and has to be earned (then maintained) by us. There can be two different levels of the Social License: a lower level of acceptance and a higher level of approval. While a lower level Social License is sufficient to have a quiet relationship with our society, a higher level Social License is much more beneficial because the society turns into advocates or defenders of our actions.

If society does not agree with what we are doing, be it in top sport or at grassroots level, in leisure sport, breeding or just keeping horses, we are out! Then there is no more sponsors, no TV, no mothers who take their kids to our stables.

The Social License depends on two factors. One of them is totally independent from what we are doing, but extremely important! The attitude of society towards animals in general has dramatically changed. There is an enormous amount of decisions where the - sometimes unfortunately alleged - animal welfare is paramount. The rapidly growing percentage of vegetarians and vegans is just a small but strong indication. This trend will continue, no matter if we like it or not. It is a fact.

The other factor is how we act ourselves. For sure, our organisations - FEI, EEF, NFs - and we personally put emphasis on the horses’ welfare. In the end, however, we see things through our own eyes, apply standards that are not accepted anymore by today’s society. Examples are Rollkur/hyperflexion, blood rule, bits and bridles. Unfortunately we have to admit that we do not have the outgrowths in each discipline of our sport under full control and we never will. Yes, we invest millions in anti-doping and safety measures, and still we experience every weekend that the horses seem to know it is Sunday: in the Grand Prix competition with the highest prize money, they jump totally different than in the competition that comes with a lower purse. Do the responsible persons really believe that society does not notice such things? Do they even not care as long as the cash comes in?

Society does not differentiate between disciplines. For dead horses in Endurance, people also blame all Jumping, Dressage, Eventing riders as well as the leisure rider who suspects no evil!

Without Social License, nothing works! But: we have it, at least for the time being. And we can do a lot to keep it.

What do we have to do?

  • Adhere to rules, severely punish offenders
  • Question existing rules in consensus with the developments in society
  • Create an independent scientific basis for our decisions, invest in it - this is also what can be  interesting to sponsors
  • Seek the dialogue with acting persons, convince them, e. g. that Formula 1 has no place in equestrian sport
  • Win the youth to our side before it turns away from us for the reasons mentioned

We can still maintain the Social License. We have arguments and the power to implement our findings. So let’s do it!

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