Danish researchers hope their study of the lives of riding school horses will ultimately enable the welfare of the animals to be monitored and ultimately safeguarded.
It is hoped the ongoing project will provide new knowledge about riding school management, training of students, and the frequency and risk factors for disease.
University of Copenhagen researchers Jens Agger, Louise Christensen, Rikke Buhl, Christian Pipper and Maj Thomsen undertook the study after a review of the current literature revealed that there was limited information on the subject.
Their findings to date were presented at the recent International Society for Equitation Science conference in Denmark
The survey of management was based on structured interviews over the telephone.
Three riding schools were pilot studied, with focus group interviews about physical facilities, daily management, staff education and responsibilities, riding programs and riding equipment, the general horse day cycle, and disease occurrence.
On this basis, a final structured questionnaire including 44 questions was developed. A diary was formulated for daily recording of each horse’s working hours, free time, hours on pasture, absence due to disease, and recording of clinical disease.
Riding schools were initially contacted through the Danish Riding Association, which has 462 member schools. Based on a Facebook invitation, 49 riding schools volunteered to be telephone interviewed and 20 of these volunteered for daily recording for each horse during four months, from March-June this year.
To evaluate the representativeness of the volunteers, 51 other Danish schools were randomly selected for an interview. So far, 85 schools have been telephone interviewed. Data collection is on-going.
Examples of preliminary descriptive results based on 85 riding schools show that the most common causes for a horse to be excluded from riding lessons were due to lameness (57 schools), colic (10 schools) and behavioural problems (1 school).
Ten schools had no dominating problem. The two major reasons for culling – selling or slaughtering – horses were behavioural problems (70 schools) and lameness (45 schools).
The range of disease days was 1-30 due to lameness and 1-7 days due to colic and behavioural problems.
The horses worked 1-4 hours per day. The horses were either in loose housing (11 schools) or in boxes (69 schools).
The horse age at purchase was generally over 7 years, but a large variation was noted.
Horses were on average kept at the school for eight years, ranging from 1-18 years.
The teacher average age was 41, with an average 11 years of teaching experience.
The range of riding school sizes was 3-48 horses and 12-450 riding students.
Disease recording in three schools showed incidence rates varying from zero (no disease recorded) to 3.3 cases of disease per 100 horse days at risk during a two-week observation period in March 2014.
The findings presented are part of a larger, longer-term study highlighting the importance of collecting information that will enable the welfare of riding school horses to be monitored and ultimately safeguarded.
Final research findings from this project will provide knowledge about riding school management, the training of students, and frequency and risk factors for disease occurrence in riding school horses, the researchers said.