Horse Welfare Board appoints high-calibre strategy implementation team

26 May 2021 BHA Features Welfare

  • Mike Etherington-Smith, designer of multiple Olympic Eventing courses, one of three to join the Horse Welfare Board team
  •  New roles will work across racing to co-ordinate the implementation of the Horse Welfare Strategy
  • Roles funded by the Racing Foundation, underpinning its commitment to horse welfare initiatives

British racing’s Horse Welfare Board (HWB) is proud to announce the appointment of three individuals to an impressive programme team responsible for taking forward the board’s work.

The appointments represent the commitment of the HWB and racing’s stakeholders to the full implementation of the ambitious ‘A Life Well Lived’ strategy, a five‐year plan to ensure the highest standards of welfare for horses bred for racing throughout their lives.

Among the new appointments is Mike Etherington-Smith, designer of multiple Olympic Eventing courses, who will work across the industry as Equine Safety Advisor. Joining him among the new appointments will be Programme Director Helena Flynn and Welfare Data Projects Lead Stephen Wensley. The programme team will be accountable to Barry Johnson, the HWB’s independent chair, and will work closely with the other members of the HWB.

The roles are being funded by the Racing Foundation, as part of their commitment to supporting horse welfare as a key area of focus within the industry. Rob Hezel, the Racing Foundation’s CEO, was directly involved in the recruitment process.

As part of its discussions with industry groups last year, the HWB identified the need for dedicated leadership roles, which could support Racing to plan, resource and deliver the 26 projects outlined in the strategy. This included the need for a full time Programme Director, working alongside two more specialised roles that would co-ordinate the various projects linked to equine safety and welfare data.

The new team will also work closely with Claire Cuff, the Head of Welfare Communications, who took up her post in February and who is based with Great British Racing. The Welfare Communications role is funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board and is responsible for providing the communications element of the overall welfare plan.

Welcoming the appointments, Barry Johnson, the HWB’s Independent Chair, said: “We are enormously excited and encouraged by the formation of this impressive team. Not only are their skills and experience truly world class, they have also demonstrated a strong ability to work collaboratively. This was essential, as we wanted a team who would support racing and its people to fulfil our collective ambitions in relation to horse welfare.

“Helena Flynn has worked at a high level in some major global businesses and this experience, combined with her deep passion for horses and racing, gives us great confidence that she will be a real asset to racing and will help to drive the Horse Welfare Programme forward over the coming months.

“Mike Etherington-Smith is a world leader in the field of equine risk management and will not only share his formidable experience and knowledge with racing, but also to learn from the equine understanding and expertise that exists across the sport. We are delighted to have someone of Mike’s calibre working with us.

“Stephen Wensley impressed us with his deep understanding of data projects and his strong project management experience. We felt he could help us ensure that racing has a clear programme of effective welfare data projects, which can be used by the whole industry to build understanding and drive improvements.”

Rob Hezel, CEO of the Racing Foundation said: “Our mission at the Racing Foundation is to be a catalyst for improvement in the racing industry and we recognise the need for exceptional talent to action that change.

“The Racing Foundation is convinced the appointment of these individuals will make a positive difference to the landscape of British racing and to the horses that underpin it.

“We would like to welcome Helena, Mike and Stephen to the Horse Welfare Board and look forward to working with them in the future.”

The Appointees

Programme Director
Helena Flynn will join the HWB as Programme Director at the end of June. Originally from Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath, where her family bred horses for the British Police, Helena has worked at senior level in a number of major global organisations, most recently as Global Head of Brand for Jaguar Land Rover. Previously Global Head of PR for British Airways, Helena has managed a number of major sports sponsorships, as well as leading the airline’s response to reputational and crisis issues.

Helena said: “I am delighted to be joining the HWB in a role that combined both my passion and devotion to horse welfare at all levels. With my background in sport, and family rooted in horseracing, I look forward to building upon the important work undertaken, alongside this stellar team of experts.”

Equine Safety Advisor
The HWB’s new Equine Safety Advisor, who will work with racing to address safety and minimise reasonably avoidable risk to the sport’s equine participants, will already be well known to many in racing. Mike Etherington-Smith is an internationally renowned designer in Eventing, including as Course Designer at the Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

A former CEO of British Eventing, Mike was instrumental in setting up the FEI’s Eventing Risk Management Steering Group, which has pioneered investigations into the reduction of horse falls, and measures to decrease risks of serious injuries to horses and athletes while competing and training.

Mike said: “I am honoured and excited to have the opportunity to be part of this team and work closely with the HWB.

“As people who love and respect the horses we are responsible for, it is imperative that we do the very best we can when it comes to risk management and mitigation and this is an area in which I have long had a particular interest.

“My interest in racing has been long-standing and through involvement at Aintree and Cheltenham, for example, I have been lucky enough to meet with various jockeys, trainers, owners, clerks, vets and other racecourse officials to discuss the key challenges we all face. I am looking forward to working closely with people from all areas of the racing community to develop proposals based on their knowledge, wisdom and experiences.”

Welfare Data Projects Lead
Stephen Wensley will work across a number of key stakeholders to help plan and coordinate the various welfare data projects prioritised in the HWB strategy. With more than 20 years’ experience in the financial, media, data and information industries, including 12 years as a Senior Project Manager with Thomson Reuters, Stephen will help ensure that racing’s work in the welfare space is underpinned by robust evidence and data.

Stephen is a keen volunteer with the Devon & Cornwall Point-to-Point, acting as their Website and Social Media Manager, and has orchestrated the live streaming of P2P events during the recent lockdowns.

Stephen said: “I have long had a passion for the sport of horseracing and the opportunity to combine that with my knowledge and experiences in the finance and technology industries was a compelling one. I believe the HWB is in a position to make a tangible difference to the sport and through the utilisation of high quality data, I hope to play a part in ensuring the best possible outcomes are achieved.”