5 minutes reading time (1007 words)

The social licence for endurance

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Have you ever heard of the term "Social Licence"?  

I came across the term recently, watching the amazing tackroom chat of my friend Wayne Garrick with his eventing coach (have a look: #tackroomchats episode 4 with Katie Williams)
I realised improving our social licence, as equestrians, but also as endurance riders is for a large part why I do what I do: I want riders to learn and know more, so they can become better ambassadors for our sport each day.

But what is a "Social Licence"?

It is often used for businesses: Social licence to operate (SLO) refers to the ongoing acceptance of a company or industry's standard business practices and operating procedures by its employees, stakeholders, and the general public. 

Bad conduct means bad press and bad press means that the acceptance of a company can diminish. In this world where everything is shared on social media, the term social licence has started to become more than a business term. It is becoming immersed in everyday life and I feel we should be more aware of having a social licence to ride horses and do endurance.

We are able to ride our horses because it is accepted to do so in society. 

But we should be careful to keep our social licence to do so. Recent events at the Olympics have shown the impact of social outrage when we are seen to not treat our horses fairly. And there are plenty of other examples:  racetrainers "sitting" on a collapsed racehorse, footage of a person kicking her horse out of frustration and dressage has been getting it's fair share of criticism about "roll-kur". And we all know our sport has had some bad press in recent years as well...

Everyone has a phone that can video these days, and they are whipped out as soon as something happens. And that is good, because violence against horses (or any creature, humans included) should never be condoned. 

"Image" is part of the social licence. 

We ourselves use this: we video drivers that do not pass in a safe and courteous manner, which helped enormously to make sure that riders are safer on the roads. And this is good, we need evidence to back up claims, to create a common consensus that certain behaviour is not accepted.

But let's also keep an eye on our "bedside-manners" as riders: do we thank every driver that has passed wide and slow? I can tell you that I find a lot of horse riders I meet on the road frankly rude and dismissive of drivers. Not acknowledging, not helping to create a safe way to pass, sometimes even panicking and becoming rude. And when we meet walkers, do we show them the courtesy we like to be shown?

As endurance riders we are out and about a lot, so how others perceive us is very important.

Do you thank (all) drivers when they pass you?

What is the "image of endurance"?

How do other equestrians see "us" endurance riders? Or non-equestrians? 

And no, I am not talking about things that happen in countries far away, not that I am not worried about it, I am, very much so. But I am not in a position to change anything there. And neither are most of you… My response has always been to set a better example myself, am I perfect? Far from it, but I strive to improve all the time.

We have to look closer to home...  Do you think endurance in Europe has a good image? We ourselves probably feel we do, when we look through our rose coloured endurance glasses, but others?? I talk to many other equestrians, and to be honest, they do not have the highest opinion of us (ok, maybe we share that opinion about them, but that's not the issue...).

I must say that I have been at many rides that I have been a little ashamed about my beloved sport: I see too many unfit combinationsoverweight horses/overweight riders, or  I pass riders that are collapsed in the saddle, horses that are moving on 3 or 4 tracks all the time, horses that are being ridden on the forehand or in an extended trot that gives them a lot of concussion on the joints... I witness horses going up a hill in canter without being warmed up, or shouting matches between riders and their crew...
Do you realise that "normal" equestrians find it odd or even cruel we keep pouring water over our horses?

Do your bit: invest in yourself!

I really think we should all make sure we are doing our bit to maintain or even improve the "standard" that is required of us. Everyone can do a little to improve themselves, their horse and with that the sport. It doesn't have to cost loads of money, often it is enough to be aware, to listen to that little voice that tells you you should really do a little more about this or that. Invest in some schooling, rider skills or your fitness, even though you hate it and smile and wave to the driver you feel is overtaking too fast, because he actually did take his foot off the accelerator... 

Learn from others, be kind, seek knowledge, and strive to be the best you can, within the means you have. Sometimes it is some money, often time, and dedication and awareness (the latter is what we really need to change: improving oneself can be tedious, require self-discipline and doing stuff you might not necessarily like...)

We have to, for ourselves, our horses and to be able to keep doing this sport. Because once it is being questioned if we still have a social licence to do endurance (or perhaps one day even to ride horses...) 

Invest in yourself
       Invest in your horse
              Invest in your sport
(and yes... I can help with that 😉)

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