High welfare standards in jumping explained to European Parliament by IJRC vice president

François Mathy JR, vice-president of the IJRC, recently had the honour of addressing the European Parliament’s Horse Group - and took the opportunity  to emphasise the bond  between horse and rider in elite level jumping.

In the presence of European Commission president Dr Ursula von der Leyen, François  emphasised that high welfare standards in  top sport were born by the riders’ passion for the animal, not simply a matter of expediency.

“I was introduced to you as an athlete but in our sport, we are two athletes,” François told the MEPs.  “We work daily together to improve in order to become better and achieve the best possible results. “We must think as one, we must act as one, we must be able react together in fraction of seconds to be so precise that we can succeed through the technicalities of the 1.60m courses, and at the high speed of the jump-offs.

“We want to keep them happy not only because it’s one of our main concerns, but also because it is a great factor of performance. If your horse loves you, if he understands what you expect from him, he will fight for you. You know the famous saying ‘happy wife, happy life;’ it’s also valid with the horse.”

The MEPs’ Horse Group was founded in 2011 by British MEP, Julie Girling, to unite MEPs with active equine and equestrian interests and thereby give the horse sector a greater voice. She was acutely aware of the role of the horse in many of the regulatory matters before European Parliament Committees.  These ranged from agriculture and equine welfare to competition law and gambling.

The current chairman is the Belgian MEP, Hilde Vautmans, who has guided the Horse Group through many other discussions including two not envisaged in 2011 – Brexit, and the fast-growing influence of equestrianism’s “social licence to operate.”

With regard to the latter, Francois noted that the bond first created between man and horse when it was a work animal has transferred to leisure and sport – without which the existence of the equine could be under threat.

François was impressed by the scope of the meeting, and by  the parliamentarians’ grasp of complex and diverse topics - the positive impact of horse grazing on biodiversity; growing problems caused by wolves in parts of Europe; and the need to differentiate horses from animals intended for human consumption  in regulations over the use of antibiotics.

Ursula von der Leyen is herself an active dressage rider. She was patron of the 2021 FEI European show jumping and dressage championships in Germany.  Francois observed: “I found it interesting that this lady, who has such a lot of concerns and responsibilities, was actually  really involved in the welfare of horses.  It is nice to know that people operating at this level have an understanding about horses.

“It was a great opportunity for our sport to become closer to the knowledgeable people who are in these decision-making roles.”

The full text of François’ speech can be found here Media (ijrc.org)