Study identifies worrying lack of knowledge among some horse owners

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The results of a study in which 128 owners were quizzed about caring for horses suggest a fundamental lack of knowledge, according to researchers.

An overview of the findings of the British study, based around a 40-question online multiple choice survey, formed a poster presentation at the recent International Society for Equitation Science annual conference in Rome.

Horse owners have a duty of care to safeguard the wellbeing of horses in their care, Hartpury University researcher Jane Williams and her colleagues said.

However, many reported welfare problems were linked to unintentional neglect due to owner ignorance.

Williams, David Marlin, Lynn Pal and Hayley Randle set out to assess the equine knowledge base of British horse owners.

A total of 128 owners aged 18 and over completed the survey, distributed via horse-related Facebook pages.

Seventy-four of those who took part were found to have no degree, 27 had an undergraduate degree, and 27 had a postgraduate qualification.

The questions covered equine management, health, behaviour and welfare. Fourteen of the questions were categorised as easy, 14 as medium, and 12 as hard.

Roughly four out of every five answered the easy questions correctly. However, around one in five selected incorrect answers or said they did not know the correct answer.

Less than half of the participants answered the “medium” questions correctly – 47.29%. Nearly a third – 31.51% – selected incorrect answers and 21.21% did not know the correct answer.

Even fewer respondents (21.51%) gave the correct answers for the hard questions, the study team reported. Most either selected the incorrect response (46.17%) or did not know the correct answer (32.32%).

Key areas where knowledge was poor included the recommended forage-to-concentrate ratio (52.71% got it wrong), identification of the signs of colic (41.09% were incorrect) and the recommended shoeing interval (49.46% got it wrong).

“These results suggest a lack of fundamental knowledge exists in these horse owners, which has the potential to negatively impact equine health and welfare,” the researchers concluded.

“Further research is needed to identify if this is a universal phenomenon in the equine industry and to explore strategies to educate horse owners and by association improve equine wellbeing.”

The study team said this weak knowledge base could lead to unintentional neglect or prove detrimental to the welfare of horses in the respondents’ care.

Educating horse owners is essential to promote equine wellbeing, they said.

Williams heads the Department of Animal and Agriculture at Hartpury University; Marlin is a scientific and equine consultant; Pal a neurobehavioural and biological chartered psychologist who specialises in dressage; and Randle is an associate professor within the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Charles Sturt University in Australia.

Williams, J., Marlin, D., Pal, L., & Randle, H. (2018). Do Horse Owners Know How To Care For Their Horses? Poster session presented at International Society for Equitation Science 2018, Rome, Italy.

The poster presentation is published under a Creative Commons License

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