FEI Sports Forum discusses the 2025 European Championships and gender inequality. GETTY IMAGES

The 12th edition of the Forum took place in Lausanne from April 29 to 30. National federations from around the world discussed ethics, sustainability in equestrian sport, training guidelines, anti-doping measures, and medical horse controls. The venue for the 2025 European Championships remains undecided due to resource constraints.

The European Championships and the gender imbalance in equestrian sport were the main topics of discussion at the 12th edition of the FEI Sports Forum, which took place in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 29 and 30 April. Riders, coaches, national federation presidents and all those involved in the sport spent two intense days together. The President of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), Ingmar de Vos, welcomed the participants with an agenda of six sessions, ranging from ethics to sustainability and protection. 

However, two topics stood out: the 2025 European Championships and gender inequality in equestrian sport. Establishing guidelines to protect ethical training methods, scientific research and the need for horses to have the same rights as humans were on the agenda. "The Italian Federation has done a good job with the Italian government. Since last year, the horse is now officially recognised by law as an athlete and has the same legal protection. In case of abuse, the horse has the same rights as a human being," explained the IJRC's Director, Eleonora Ottaviani.

There was also a lively discussion on the FEI Equine Anti-Doping and Medication Control Regulations (EADCMR). "Who is responsible for the horse when it comes to testing for controlled medication and/or doping?" was the main question raised. 

The FEI plans to introduce out-of-competition testing to protect horses outside the competition environment. Eleonora Ottaviani pointed out that if a case of doping is found, not only the rider, but the entire team and anyone involved in the horse's care should be considered potentially responsible.

Equality between men and women was discussed at the FEI Forum. GETTY IMAGES
Equality between men and women was discussed at the FEI Forum. GETTY IMAGES

Finally, gene doping was discussed. Ongoing efforts are being made to stay ahead of new technologies and practices that could threaten equestrian sport. A meeting with the International Grooms Association was held during the Forum. This followed a meeting on the same day with a group of riders, organisers, owners, trainers and official stakeholder organisations who are signatories to the FEI Grooms Charter. 

The subject of the Senior European Championships then came up. So far, no venue has submitted an official bid to host next year's showjumping, eventing or para-equestrian championships. As panellist Nayla Stossel, President of the CSIO St. Gallen, explained, economic factors are probably to blame. Simone Perillo, Secretary General of the Italian Federation, added that the cost-sharing model would have to be examined and that the FEI might have to share the risks. The importance of the European Championships in training riders for future events was stressed by François Mathy of the IJRC

"The Championships are where the real sport happens, where the best sport wants to participate. The EC is very important to gain experience before the WC and OG. Younger riders have a unique opportunity at the EC," she said. Ottaviani, who has thirty years' experience as an event director, added that despite the lack of prize money, competing at the Olympics is the ultimate dream for most riders.

The FEI is working with the IOC to promote a cleaner sport. GETTY IMAGES
The FEI is working with the IOC to promote a cleaner sport. GETTY IMAGES

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has worked on safe sport for over two decades and has implemented measures such as the IOC Consensus Statements and the need for all Olympic sport organisations to implement safeguarding policies. The FEI will be holding safeguarding webinars for all NFs on 23 May at 9am and 4pm CEST. Finally, the theme 'Equality in Equestrian Sport: Assessing Gender Equality across Key Roles and Levels'.

It was moderated by Jessica Kurten, Chair of the FEI Athletes' Commission. Kurten began by explaining the difference between 'equality' and 'equity'. The former is about treating everyone the same. The latter focuses on individual differences, ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities to succeed both on and off the field. 

Equestrianism is usually thought of as a gender-neutral sport, where everyone competes on an equal footing. However, inequalities still exist. H.E. Nanda-Devi Norodom, Secretary General of the Cambodian Equestrian Federation (CEF), closed the session with real-life examples and personal anecdotes of how equestrian sport has promoted equality and inclusivity in Cambodian communities.

The reasons why fewer women are reaching higher levels in showjumping and other disciplines was the subject of further discussion. It seems that many riders prioritise their horses and family over world rankings.