What can the equestrian world learn from McDonald’s?

McDonald’s is not the first organisation that comes to mind when considering the equestrian community and its public image. However, it is an organisation that has suffered bad press and poor public image in the past. There are in fact, many lessons the equestrian community can learn from the changes made by the organisation and, how they overcame the challenges of regaining public trust and support,

On 24 January, World Horse Welfare hosted a virtual conference to bring horse sport leaders together to learn about the strategies used by leaders of other industries to address public concerns about their activities – often emerging stronger as a result.

The invitation-only event titled Maintaining public acceptance of equestrianism: What can we learn from other industries? was attended by more than 150 leaders from racing and equestrian sport globally, and featured presentations by President of the FEI, Ingmar de Vos; Dr. Chris Riggs, Director, Hong Kong Jockey Club Equine Welfare Research Foundation; Bob Langert, Sustainability Consultant and former Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability at McDonald’s Corporation; Charlie Arnot, Founder and President, Look East and Chief Executive, Center for Food Integrity; Dr. Kieren Moffat, Co-founder and Chief Executive, Voconiq; and Toby Park, Head of Energy and Sustainability, The Behavioural Insights Team.

“Only around 30% of the UK public broadly trust horse sport regulators to put horse welfare first”

The theme of the day was very much based on gaining public trust – vital in the ongoing sustainability of any industry and, which must be earned and continually negotiated to be maintained. McDonald’s realised they had to be proactive, not reactive to regain public trust. Their strategies to build trust included inviting their critics to the table, advocating the use of ‘radical transparency’ to demonstrate openness and honesty and, ensuring their values were aligned with those of the public.

The importance of these recommendations, is underscored by the results of a survey conducted for World Horse Welfare by You Gov in May, 2023.

The data indicated that only around 30% of the UK public broadly trusted horse sport regulators to put horse welfare first, around a quarter did not, and almost 50% did not know or were not sure – not great results for the equestrian community.

In order to ensure this is remains in our future we must improve and maintain public trust in equestrianism

What could the equestrian industry do to improve its public image?

One successful strategy used by McDonald’s, was to work with the company’s critics, and to collaborate with independent scientists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Bob Langert said, “Rather than being on the defensive, we reached out to our critics and collaborated … We had spectacular results …We went from being the enemy to becoming a leader. We did good for the world, and, most importantly, we found these changes worked for our business model. These one-time critics went from being enemies to collaborators and praising our work and the changes we had made. That’s worth so much!”

Describing the pursuit of public trust as “enlightened self-interest”, Charlie Arnot was clear in his recommendations for attendees: “STOP persuading, correcting and winning; START listening, asking and sharing”.

These recommendations and many others, all provided by industry experts who have walked this path before us, gave attendees invaluable insights into what has worked and has not worked in other industries, as they charted their journey into the future.

The presentations were followed by a discussion panel, which made it clear the the equestrian industry must accept change is needed and, the importance or gaining and maintaining public trust to ensure a future for equestrianism.

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare said:

“As part of our commitment to ethical horse sport we hosted this event for sport leaders to help them learn lessons in building public trust from other industries that involve animals, and how making changes to build trust is not only possible but essential for equestrianism to grow.

I truly hope that guests will take what they’ve heard back to their communities and challenge the status quo. They will not be alone, as we are all part of team equestrian, and World Horse Welfare will continue to work with sport regulators to support them on this journey. We will also continue to measure public acceptance and trust in horse sport, and if just a couple of the strategies discussed are made use of, I have no doubt this measure will improve.”

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