This week we have handed over our blog to Nikki from Happy Hooves.
Nikki is a passionate blogger on all things equine, but she is particularly passionate about equine welfare, which is a cause very close to Equissimo's heart.
You can follow Happy Hooves via their
Over to you Happy Hooves.
We are all aware of the importance of maintaining good standards of welfare when looking after our horses but do we have a thorough understanding of what this actually means? Is equine welfare ensuring you feed and water a horse? Is it to ensure your horse is kept happy at all times?
Well yes but there are so many other factors to consider in determining the welfare of the horse. It is of use to understand the definition of welfare in this case so here goes:
" Equine welfare describes the acceptable conditions of life and use for domesticated horses, in contrast to suffering produced by voluntary or involuntary actions of others, whether through physical abuse, mutilation, neglect, or other forms of ill-treatment".
So what is the definition of GOOD welfare?
Well according to the Farm Animal Welfare Council Good welfare states the physical and psychological well-being and have identified the Five Freedoms when assessing animal welfare. These include the need for:
- for a suitable environment (place to live)
- for a suitable diet
- to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- to be housed with, or apart from, other animals (if applicable)
- to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease
Detecting possible welfare issues
So although there are obvious cases of poor welfare there are also more subtle signs which may indicate a problem. It is so difficult to detect a potential welfare issue in horses as this can be totally subjective at times and truly misunderstood by the handler or owner and sometimes involve innocent individuals in equine welfare cases.
So are there any guidelines for this issue to identify poor welfare?
In truth no there aren't, according to Science there is still a lack of conclusive evidence.
We can look at the five freedoms as guidelines to help us which still raises questions. To me welfare is to try to look at life from the animals point of view taking into account its nature, its role in a domesticated setting, its physiological and psychological requirements as a horse.
I am not a horse I hear you say and therefore is totally subjective to which I agree, however this should not deter you from looking at the facts about horse behaviour and try to gain some understanding about the way horses think.
My horse has a nice warm stable free from drafts and the cold
We all want to look after our horses and they are our babies, when we think of how cold it gets in winter and how rainy and miserable it is to be outside we project this onto the horse. However if you could ask your horse had the choice what would he choose?
Well a study into horse behaviour focused on this issue allowing the horse choices while monitoring their reaction to the choices . Schatzmann (1998) gave horses free access to indoor and outdoor environments available straw and hay, choose the type of standing they prefered and whether they wanted to be in the company of other horses.
The study concluded that the main priority of the horse was to be in the company or view of other horses, eating hay or grass outside with more time spent on hard surfaces softer for rolling regardless of whether it was raining or not.
Choice Not an option?
In an ideal world we ALL would have yards which were set up to allow this much choice and freedom but the truth of the matter is many people don't. I think the important thing here is to at least try to provide choice and ascertain what suits your horse as this depends upon what he has previously been used to.
An interesting study conducted in America on the wild horse population found that domesticated horses who escaped or were released into the wild to join the wild horses didn't thrive and eventually died.
This is interesting as it indicates just how much of a horses nature can be weakened or removed through domestication by being managed by humans. The horse becomes totally dependant on the human and loses its ability to survive without our intervention anthropomorphising our horses may do more harm than good.
Are we contributing to equine health issues?
Think of some of the most common equine related health issues we face colic, gastric ulcers, arthritis, stereotypical behaviours, injuries, obesity to name but a few, most of these can be caused by insufficient management practices and that's NOT because owners/handlers are cruel or mean! it's just the risks of such issues increase as a symptom of domestication but can be managed with knowledge and understanding.
We should try to minimize the risks by offering choice where possible and try to understand the needs of the horse mentally and physically allowing us to minimise any problems surrounding the well-being of the horse.
The mental health and welfare of the horse goes hand in hand with its physiology and should be balanced in terms of feeding, grazing and time spent with other horses, exercise and training. If there is an imbalance between any of these factors it will make itself known through behaviour and in health.
In a Nutshell...
There is so much more I want to talk about regarding this issue as it's certainly not a straightforward topic. I hope that what I have mentioned so far has provided food for thought and can be used as a basis for further study into the horse.
This article is not a blame game! made to make you feel guilty! it is something we all have and will continue to experience with our horses if we could raise our awareness we could help to minimize the risks.
It's worth remembering that sometimes what's best for you is not for them. Offer choice, environment and work suited to the individual based upon the nature of the horse and the goals you want to achieve. We all love horses and want the best for them try to "Think like a horse".
Thanks so much!