By the time this column appears in print, arguably the most important public equestrian discussion that will have taken place in Britain will have passed and the topic, 'Will we be riding in 20 years time?' thoroughly debated.

Organised through an open webinar by the Showing Council, the question will be posed by Dr Jane Nixon, a leading veterinary surgeon with 40 years experience, a director of the British Equestrian Federation and chair of the Showing Council itself.

At a time when all other equestrian bodies are burying their heads in the sand and failing to address adequately the issue of horse welfare, full marks to this otherwise 'toothless' body for tackling the issue head on as it is one that applies to all equestrians, whatever the discipline – some more than others.

With senior figures from the British Equestrian Federation, British Eventing, British Dressage, British Showjumping, the British Horse Society and the Pony Club signed up for the webinar, it is obvious that there is growing concern among the hierarchy of equestrian sport. .

So why now and what's this all about?

In essence, it makes reference to public perception of equestrianism, particularly horse riding and competition work, and the freedom of social media platforms to expose what is considered by absolutely any commentator as unacceptable standards and welfare issues within the equestrian industry.

According to Dr Nixon: “This topic is of the utmost importance for equestrianism. We cannot continue with the stream of negative images, outdated, privileged attitudes and welfare concerns. We need to address the situation and look at ways we can collectively improve realities and perceptions both within the industry and to the public at large.”

There is no doubt in my mind that the catalyst for this current focus emerged during the pentathlon at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, when a horse named Saint Boy, ridden by German athlete, Annika Schleu, refused to jump. Distressing images of abuse to the horse by both his rider and her coach were caught on camera and posted round the world.

Needless to say the incident went viral with condemnation of both the incident and the jumping phase of the pentathlon resulting in the coach being banned and the discipline being axed from future events in favour of cycling.

Readers may well ask why this incident hasn't been consigned to a distant memory. The simple reason is that it has been highlighted in a recent publication, 'I can’t watch anymore: The case for dropping equestrian from the Olympic Games', published by Epona Media and written by equestrian journalist, Julie Taylor.

The basis for her argument covers many areas, ranging from social and political, to horse welfare on a variety of fronts. The evidence expressed, which has been has been gathered over many years, on the surface looks legitimate and makes difficult reading for any equestrians, let alone animal lovers.

Familiar topics covered include abuse of both whips and spurs, tight nose bands, severe bits, medication and drugs – the list goes on. By any standard, this book questions the ethical nature of equestrian sport at its very core and works on the basis that horses are not volunteers, unlike riders who are. It makes compelling reading.

It will be interesting to watch the webinar and find out what participants have to say during the question and answer time session. I'll certainly report back on that, however in the mean time, I'd remind readers, yet again, of the key threat that social media poses to our equestrian interests in general and sport in particular.

The technology developed in the mobile phone through its capabilities as a camera, easy link to the Internet and social media channels is immense. Moreover, it is immediate, which may be the greater concern.

We have seen what public opinion, rightly or wrongly, has done to fox hunting and the use of the whip in racing. Surely it is only a matter of time until it turns its attention to the collecting rings at shows and events, or perhaps the horse box parking areas where competitors feel safe from public view – sadly, not any more.

Ironically, it has been the Showing Council that has taken a lead on this topic when it can surely only be a matter of time before video clips of adults riding ponies at shows becomes the focus of criticism from the welfare lobby.

My views on them competing on small mountain and moorland ponies has been well aired in this column, as has been the exercising of small ponies by older riders for their little jockeys prior to their classes.

I have no doubt whatsoever that we shall soon be viewing video clips of both or either of these practices on social media platforms as part of a shame and blame campaign. Headlines on national newspapers aren't out of the question either.

I have to ask, though, where will the showing societies hide when asked to explain their acceptance of these practices? Currently, their argument surrounds the welfare of children who would appear incapable of competing without this intervention.

However, working on the basis that the pony isn't the volunteer in all this, surely it is the parent/owner/producer, or trainer who has to step up to the plate and take responsibility and not leave it to the pony to be over-jockeyed prior or during the class in order to win the rosette.

The Showing Council has every right to be concerned and should be asking the question ... 'Will we be competing in 20 years time?' Change may have to come to currently acceptable practice, but at what cost – that is the real question?

The Great Yorkshire Show had already paid the penalty of introducing strict exercise rules in both the show pony and hunter pony classes, with an anticipated reduced entry which consequently meant the loss of HOYS qualifiers in these sections.

The organisers have been rightly, or wrongly criticised for the lack of consultation prior to adopting the rules and an inconsistency between sections. However, it was always going to be a 'no win' situation since the governing body of the British Show Pony Society, came down heavily against the new ruling.

Read more: Tom Best: New 'normal' will throw up challenges for horse events

Since the show organisers have decided to remove both sections from its schedule as a result, sadly the only people to miss out are the local exhibitors who have always cherished competing at this premier Yorkshire event and the youngsters who dreamt of qualifying for HOYS in the famous White Rose ring.

In general terms, we can ill-afford to lose any opportunities to compete for a qualifying place at HOYS at our county shows, since they remain the real showcase of the showing industry to the general public. Horse shows don't do that and never will, I suspect.

With this in mind there is some concern over our own Scottish Horse Show, which is being moth-balled for a year, with a view to restructuring in order to secure its future. The show chairman, Mrs Tweetie Nimmo, was keen to point out that this is not due to the withdrawal of HOYS qualifiers and hopes the show will come back with a flourish next year with qualifiers intact.

Scottish exhibitors as well, as those in the North of England and Ireland haven't altogether missed out as Grandstand Media had redirected some of the 2022 HOYS qualifiers to the Scottish NPS Summer Show and to the Royal Highland, which had extended its schedule.

* For those interested in adding to the debate on 'Will we be riding in 20 years time?' an opportunity will exist, via The SF's facebook page once this article goes live. Sensible discussion please!