The Be Horse Aware campaign was launched in the UK in 2019. Its goal: to ensure that everybody can have a safe and enjoyable experience when in close proximity to racehorses. One of the most beloved sports of all time for the British is unquestionably horse racing, with all the huge wagering industry around it that multiplies the entertainment potential of equine competitions. Being around horses, though, requires some caution. A Code of Good Practice was co-written by industry stakeholders and supported by the Racecourse Association (RCA), Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) and National Trainers Federation.
The basic principle is that only people who have a valid reason to be in an area of close proximity to horses should have access to them. There are some common areas when close contact between humans and horses can happen: pre-parade and parade rings and winner’s enclosures, for example. These are not meant for the general public, as they can easily be overcrowded. Officials, racing staff and horses need to move around freely to go about their activities without fearing incidents with the public. The prohibition to enter these areas without valid reasons is particularly strict for children under 12.
These provisions have been the content of official regulations for quite a while. The message to the public needed to be reinforced, though. Hence, the Be Horse Aware campaign. The National Horseracing College at Doncaster has even been running Horse Awareness and Horse Courses. horse behavior, the theory of approaching horses, dangers of the parade ring are among the themes developed in these day-long pieces of training. A basic horse handling session adds practical experience in the afternoon. Participants are encouraged to handle horses, know how to approach them, how to lead them safely.
More recently, another Be Horse Aware campaign was launched by The British Horse Society (BHS) at the end of June 2020. This time it is a warning to members of the public not to feed any horses they may encounter while hiking in the countryside. There has been a considerable increase in people enjoying open-air activities in rural areas because of the pandemic. Unluckily, one of the consequences has been some cases of horses that have been seriously injured, made extremely ill, or have even died because someone fed them inadequately. Another frequent cause of incidents is leaving the gates of a field open.
The BHS said they are sure people meant no harm. Yet, they warn that any type of food, grass cuttings, or other plants can cause horses to become extremely unwell or even kill them. The British countryside is rich in lovely fields with rights of passage that attract hikers. When they belong to horse-breeding farms, the horses are frequently free to stroll around too. So human-equine encounters are frequent, but they can be risky: “Fighting between horses could break out and cause an injury. Horses may mistake your fingers for food and accidentally nip them.”
The BHS recommends closing the gates after crossing a field. “Give horses lots of space and avoid coming between mothers and their young. When seeing a horse in distress, alert the nearest farm/yard or check for a sign with the owner’s detail on”.