5 October 2020

Horse welfare is transformed as Indigenous Horse Riding becomes regulated sport in South Africa

Community members take part in training day. 

Community members take part in training day. 

A Brooke-funded project aimed at improving the welfare of horses used in Indigenous Horse Riding in South Africa has led to the activity becoming a fully-regulated national sport, with welfare standards and rules recognised by the South African Equine Federation.

Men are seen taking part in bush racing

Indigenous Horse Riding has been practiced for decades in rural and remote areas. Not only in South Africa, but in other parts of southern Africa as well. The sport lies deep in the culture, heritage and tradition of the breeders and owners of these South African indigenous horses. Virago Agri Consultants (VAC) and Brooke identified the need to improve conditions for horses after it became clear that most riders and horse owners had little to no education on the care and management of horses, meaning that wounds were often left untreated and there was little food or water given. These conditions, coupled with the fact that most of these animals also worked full weeks ahead of race weekends, signalled the need to take action.

Owners and riders take part in training day at Ladybrand

From January 2019, VAC began working with community leaders and owners to educate them on the need for better welfare regulations and the importance of safe harnessing. This was welcomed by the community as more than 200 people and 80 horses attended the biggest training day, kick starting a culture shift towards better welfare for all of the animals involved.

There was a particular focus on the youth of the community, who it is hoped will take these learnings into the future.

This project has had great success. People did not only hear about the changes and horses looking better, they were part of it and could see it happening with their own eyes, this was a huge motivation for all other riders and owners to follow! The project has opened up so many opportunities, especially for the horses, their lives have improved dramatically.

Gerda Liebenberg, VAC Project Manager  

As well as working with the community, VAC lobbied the South African Equine Federation on the urgent need for regulation within the sport. The SAEF listened and soon got to work on making Indigenous Horse Riding a national sport with rules and regulations. Such regulations include the need to have a vet on site to conduct pre-race inspections on all horses involved, horses under the age of three should not take part, and the design of the course should not put unreasonable or dangerous demands on horses and riders.

Today, there is a far greater consideration for the welfare of horses involved in the popular sport. Owners and riders have quickly made horse care and welfare a priority and neglectful behaviour has become shameful within communities. Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has added difficulties to engaging with communities, VAC continues to support owners using Whatsapp to share welfare advice and link them to government veterinary services when needed.

The yearlong project was made possible thanks to Brooke’s Innovation Fund, which enables Brooke to work with other organisations to address persistent problems affecting working equines in new and effective ways.