It may one day be possible to map and score the impact that various management, training and competition activities have on horse welfare, according to researchers.
Owners and professionals interact with horses in many different ways, but to what degree do these various interventions affect welfare?
An international panel of 16 horse welfare professionals gathered to consider this question, and have described their findings in a paper published last week in the journal Animals.
“It is self-evident,” they said, “that all elective processes and interventions are undertaken for a reason.
“However, if we are to justify a procedure, we must establish that the reason is both good and sufficient. In some cases, we may question whether the procedure is even necessary.”
The panel collectively had expertise in psychology, equitation science, veterinary science, education, welfare, equestrian coaching, advocacy, and community engagement.
They assessed the perceived harm, if any, resulting from 116 interventions that are commonly applied to horses.
They individually assessed the impact of these interventions, then gathered for a four-day workshop to discuss and finalize their rankings. They assessed each intervention in relation to nutrition, behaviour, mental impact, adverse environments, and health – collectively known as the five domains.
The interventions were considered within a range of contexts – weaning; diet; housing; foundation training; ill-health and veterinary intervention, both medical and surgical; elective procedures; care procedures; restraint for management procedures; road transport; and competition activity, work activity, and breeding activity.
Each intervention was scored on a scale of 1–10, with higher scores indicating a greater adverse impact.
For weaning, abrupt individual weaning was scored as having the greatest adverse impact. The lowest scores were for natural weaning.
For diet, feeding 100% low-energy concentrate was scored as having the greatest adverse impact. “This was not because it was felt to have an adverse effect on nutrition, but rather because of its adverse effect on behaviour,” the researchers said. The lowest scores were for cut forage or varied pasture with choice of grazing and browsing.
For housing, the pre-workshop scores identified both outdoor tethering with no social contact and indoor tie stalls with no social contact as having the greatest adverse impacts. “During the workshop, indoor tie stalls with no social contact were assessed as having the greatest adverse impact.” The lowest scores were for living outdoors with full social contact.
For foundation training, the pre-workshop scores identified dropping a horse with ropes as having the greatest adverse impact. During the workshop, both dropping a horse with ropes and forced flexion were assessed as having the worst welfare impact.
Turning to ill-health that required medical intervention, long-term curative treatments were seen as having the greatest adverse impact, whereas short-term treatment was considered less harmful. The lowest ranked intervention assessed during the workshop was long-term palliative treatment.
Turning to surgical intervention, the researcher ranked major deep intracavity surgery as having the greatest adverse impact, scoring minor surgical interventions at the other end of the scale.
For elective procedures, castration without veterinary supervision scored highest, with hoof branding at the other end of the scale.
Looking at care procedures, tongue ties were scored as having the greatest adverse impact by participants both before and during the workshop. “Additionally, restrictive nosebands were scored as having an equally high adverse impact during the workshop assessment.” Low pre-workshop scores were given to wearing hoods, rugging, sheath cleaning, and trimming; while during the workshop low scores were given for deworming, hot shoeing, trimming, and whisker removal.
Examining restraint for management procedures, pre-workshop and workshop scores identified the ear twitch as having the greatest adverse effect. Pre-workshop scoring also identified the nose twitch in this regard. The restraint with the lowest score was leg-lifting.
Turning to road transport, pre-workshop scores identified both transport in a group with unfamiliar companions and individual transport as having the greatest impact in this context. Travelling in an individual pen accompanied by familiar individuals was given the lowest pre-workshop score. Road transport scored relatively highly for an adverse environment in comparison with other contexts, the researchers said.
Looking at competition, pre-workshop scores for adverse impact were highest for both jumps racing and polo whilst, at the workshop itself, jumps racing and Western performance were assessed as having the greatest impact. The competitive activity assessed as having the lowest adverse impact was trail riding.
Turning to work, the pre-workshop scoring exercise identified rodeo as the activity with the greatest adverse impact, whilst during the workshop, carriage and haulage work was considered to have the greatest adverse impact. The pre-workshop assessment rated the collection of urine from pregnant mares to have a low adverse impact, but this score increased markedly after workshop discussion. Stock work was given a low score.
The breeding assessment was divided into male and female categories.
For mares, in-hand mating was identified as having the greatest impact in pre-workshop scoring, whilst during the workshop, wet nursing during transition between foals was considered to have a far greater adverse impact.
For stallions, the experiences of teaser males and stallion in-hand matings were both rated most highly within this context. During the workshop, the experiences of teaser males were ranked as the greatest adverse impact within this category, with scores that were higher than during the pre-workshop assessment. Pasture mating was considered to have the least harmful impact.
The researchers said the aim of the project was to assess the potential harmful impacts of common interventions on horses.
“In future,” they said, “the assumptions presented here may lead to a scoring system that allows horse carers to map the impacts of various management, training, and competition activities on horse welfare.
“Furthermore, the basis of this model can be extended to other domestic and captive species (e.g., working elephants and camels) in order to provide a unique and perhaps more accurate and holistic assessment of welfare than previous approaches.”
The panelists came from Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and the United States.
The study participants were listed as Paul McGreevy, Jeannine Berger, Nic de Brauwere, Orla Doherty, Anna Harrison, Julie Fiedler, Claudia Jones, Sue McDonnell, Andrew McLean, Lindsay Nakonechny, Christine Nicol, Liane Preshaw, Peter Thomson, Vicky Tzioumis, John Webster, Sarah Wolfensohn, James Yeates and Bidda Jones.
Using the Five Domains Model to Assess the Adverse Impacts of Husbandry, Veterinary, and Equitation Interventions on Horse Welfare
Paul McGreevy, Jeannine Berger, Nic de Brauwere, Orla Doherty, Anna Harrison, Julie Fiedler, Claudia Jones, Sue McDonnell, Andrew McLean, Lindsay Nakonechny, Christine Nicol, Liane Preshaw, Peter Thomson, Vicky Tzioumis, John Webster, Sarah Wolfensohn, James Yeates and Bidda Jones.
Animals (Basel) 2018, 8(3), 41; doi:10.3390/ani8030041