Spotlight on human behaviour’s effect on equine welfare

A panel discussion at the 2019 National Equine Forum.
A panel discussion at the 2019 National Equine Forum. © Craig Payne Photography

The study of human behavioural science could be the key to improving equine welfare in Britain, a veterinary specialist says, with the topic coming under discussion at Britain’s 28th National Equine Forum next year. 

David Rendle, a council member of the British Equine Veterinary Association and an Equine Internal Medicine Specialist, said veterinarians understood the medical needs of their patients but had insufficient understanding of the drivers of human behaviours which are frequently implicated in equine health and disease. “They also lack the right tools with which to implement human behaviour change,” Rendle said.

The human behavioural science session at the forum, introduced by a member of The Behavioural Insights Team, will look at how human behaviour change can make a difference to equine welfare.

Rendle will discuss behaviour change and its potential impact on worming compliance. “Looking specifically at the responsible use of anthelmintics, will owners with an emotional connection to an individual ever put the interests of the equine population first? Will striving for behaviour change ever be sufficient in this scenario or does change need to be enforced to put animal welfare ahead of human sentiment?”

Other speakers include Nottingham University veterinary professor Sarah Freeman, who will talk about colic, and Abigail Turnbull, of the Richmond Equestrian Centre, who will speak about strangles.

The forum will also cover a breadth of important global and national topics related to the equine sector.

A Defra Minister, the UK’s chief veterinary officer, and a leading equine epidemiologist will, together, present a comprehensive session on Brexit, animal health, emerging disease and what we have learned from the 2019 flu outbreak. The audience will have the opportunity to put questions to the panel at the end of the presentations.

Global issues will be covered including the escalating horrors of the donkey skin trade and social acceptance of the use of horses in sport.

With 2020 being an Olympic year the equestrian elements of Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be discussed by Tim Hadaway, FEI Director for Games Operations, followed by an enlightening talk from Henry Bullen of Peden Bloodstock, about travelling horses internationally.

Hadaway will brief the forum on measures in place for Tokyo 2020 in terms of safeguarding horse and athlete welfare, and optimising their performance in a challenging climate.

Kirsty Withnall, RSPCA Inspector for the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, will present the Memorial Lecture on the collaborative work of the UK’s equine welfare charities in large-scale rescue operations. These lectures are given each year and link to past winners of the Sir Colin Spedding Award; Martin Clunes received the Award in 2013 on behalf of collective UK equine welfare charities.

The winner of the Sir Colin Spedding Award will be announced, and the award presented. This award was established in 2013 in recognition of the late Professor Sir Colin Spedding’s services to the equine sector – most especially founding the National Equine Forum and Chairing it for 19 years.

The forum will be live-streamed on the NEF website, and questions can be submitted via the NEF’s online Q&A platform from March 2.

A limited number of tickets are still available for the Forum. To apply, email

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