Exclusive sneak peek from our honorary and founding fellows: Part 3 Dr. Camie Heleski

Discussing the Social License to Operate, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, and other professional updates.

“I’ve been invited to speak multiple times during the past 2 years in terms of Social License to Operate and equestrian sport...and created 2 related articles based on the topic”


Currently, society supports responsible horse use, but this support may decrease if equine welfare is perceived as lacking. There's growing concern, both from within and outside the horse world, regarding practices like using whips on racehorses, confining horses for long hours, ignoring signs of pain, breeding unfit animals, and neglecting retired horses.


If these practices decrease societal approval of equestrianism, it can result in restrictions. Loss of social acceptance often begins with negative media coverage, a decline in public trust, and eventually, political disfavour. This could lead to increased regulations and even a complete ban, as seen with the disappearance of jump racing in parts of Australia.


Equestrianism's social license hinges on how well all involved protect equine welfare and public perception of those efforts.

What is a social license to operate (SLO) and why does it matter for horse sport? In its simplest form, SLO is how the public perceives an industry or activity. It's vital, even though it doesn't come as an official document from a government agency. Questions arise: Is the industry transparent? Do people trust the stakeholders benefiting from it? Does it have legitimacy in the public eye? In today's constant scrutiny, industries that operate without accountability do so at their peril. Traditional practices and education won't suffice. The horse industry must go beyond avoiding abuse; it needs to genuinely prioritise horse welfare. This is not a mere ethical exercise but a real and pressing issue that demands attention.

Heleski CR. Social License to Operate-Why Public Perception Matters for Horse Sport-Some Personal Reflections. J Equine Vet Sci. 2023 May;124:104266. doi: 10.1016/j.jevs.2023.104266. Epub 2023 Mar 8. PMID: 36898616.

This review explores whether Thoroughbred horse racing aligns with current social values, using the concept of 'Social License to Operate' (SLO) as a framework. Surveys of the public, horse owners, and university students reveal common concerns: catastrophic injuries, two-year-old racing, jockey whip use, drug policies, and post-racing care. SLO relies on industry legitimacy, stakeholder consent, and community trust, but in today's era of constant global media and social media engagement, discussions on racehorse welfare are more critical than ever. The situation at Santa Anita in 2018-2019 highlighted the fragility of horse racing's SLO. This article provides a concise overview of SLO and a brief literature review of key stakeholder concerns. (Open access paper!)


Heleski, C., Stowe, C. J., Fiedler, J., Peterson, M. L., Brady, C., Wickens, C., & MacLeod, J. N. (2020). Thoroughbred Racehorse Welfare through the Lens of 'Social License to Operate - With an Emphasis on a US Perspective. Sustainability, 12(5).

"This past year has seen much of my time invested in the FEI Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission. People can access more of this information at: equinewellbeing.fei.org


My continued interest in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEI & A) matters has brought me into a co-chair position for our National Association of Equine Affiliated Academics (NAEAA) DEI committee. Last fall I had the opportunity to present on Allyship, ‘things to say’, ‘things to not say.’


Also, currently Maria Rørvang and I are collaborating on a book chapter regarding the senses of the horse."