Sport horses and hashtags – when social media gallops ahead

Published:12 July 2018

CQUniversity Masters researcher Julie Fiedler

Can sport horse proponents continue to ensure they have a social licence to operate in an increasingly disruptive media environment?

That’s a question posed by CQUniversity Masters researcher Julie Fiedler and her co-authors, who were joint winners of the Best Paper Prize at the recent Equine Cultures in Transition Conference in the United Kingdom.

Their paper on ‘Sport Horse Welfare and Social Licence to Operate’ points out that greater access to media platforms exposes sports to a new, potentially naïve audience, who may not be familiar with equine cultural traditions and practices.

“As consciousness about horse welfare is raised in wider society, the public may question the role of the horse on a ‘field of play’ constructed by humans … if welfare is perceived to be at risk,” says Ms Fiedler who works part-time as Executive Officer for Horse SA.

She says her research focus is on enabling sport horse organisations to prepare communication frameworks to take part in public discourse about welfare.

“There could be an erosion of public trust if sport horse organisations fail to engage, or act too slowly, during in public discourse about sport horse welfare,” Ms Fiedler says.

“By participating, the organisation is investing into long-term cost savings and reducing risk to ongoing operations.

“However, social licence to operate is the responsibility for all who care for horses, not just the overarching administration structure.”

Ms Fiedler says society is starting to reimagine the horse as a non-human sporting athlete, recognising sentience.

“Many sport organisations are small and run mainly by volunteers, yet public outrage facilitated by social media technologies can quickly become overwhelming,” she says.

“Failing to strategically and systematically embed social licence within day-to-day operations will have a negative impact on the sport.

“Entering a public discourse is long-term and dynamic and features multiple opportunities for participation in dialogue and building of new organisational knowledge.

“Social licence discourse is now moving towards collaborative, meaningful dialogue process with stakeholders, in order to build longer-term relationships.”

Ms Fiedler’s paper was co-authored by Associate Professor Kate Ames and Associate Professor Matthew Thomas, of CQUniversity, and she has also been supported by Associate Professor Kirrilly Thompson in the early stages of the study.