The restrictions imposed in Britain to restrict the spread of Covid-19 reveal the need for guidelines on the care of horses and ponies at risk of obesity and laminitis, especially during any future lockdowns, a new study has found.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, investigated the implications of Covid-19-related policies on equine management and welfare, with a focus on laminitis and obesity.
It was conducted by Scotland’s Rural College, in collaboration with the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, during the lockdown restrictions imposed in Britain as a result of the pandemic.
The key objectives were to assess the impact of the pandemic on the management of horses and ponies susceptible to laminitis, to identify challenges faced in implementing Covid-19-based guidance, and to ascertain areas of decision-making and policy development that could undergo improvement in future pandemic or emergency scenarios.
“We discovered that lockdown-associated factors had the potential to compromise the welfare of horses and ponies at risk of obesity and laminitis,” said lead author Ashley Ward, a PhD student at the rural college.
“These included disparate information and guidance, difficulties enacting public health measures in yard environments, and horses having reduced exercise during the pandemic.
“Our conclusion was that guidelines should be developed for the care of horses and ponies at risk through collaborative input from veterinary and welfare experts. This would help to reduce the negative impacts of future lockdown events in the UK.”
The study also suggested that a collaborative, multi-industry approach to developing and issuing equine-specific advice may improve continuity in the measures adopted across individual equine establishments.
The researchers anticipate that the results will provide a key reference during any future conversations on public health measures that may impact equine welfare in the UK and recommend that policy makers should include an appreciation of the interaction between the time of year and equine welfare during future lockdown events.
Equine nutritionist Clare Barfoot, the marketing, research and development director with feed brand Spillers, said the work carried important recommendations to reduce equine welfare risks during any future lockdowns.
“This summer our primary focus has been on helping horse owners keep their horses at a healthy weight to reduce the risks associated with obesity, in particular laminitis. Until formal guidelines are developed we hope our range of practical advice, available online and via our Care-Line will help, should there be another lockdown.”
The study was conducted in tandem with research looking at how the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown affected horses and the human/animal interaction.
It was concluded that the coronavirus pandemic had a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing.
The study, also led by Ward, and published in the journal Animals, centered on questioning 22 members of the equestrian community in Aberdeenshire, as well as two welfare centre managers in England.
It found that obstacles to communication and limitations on horse owner interaction with their animals were sources of distress and frustration for interviewees.
The report also highlights the stress placed on equine veterinarians who could be at risk of overwork and burnout as they manage their responsibility to protect public health during emergency scenarios such as the pandemic.
However, there were some positive outcomes where the equine community undertook action to help overcome financial stresses and social isolation.
“From this study, we have been able to better understand the importance of human-animal interactions and the role that horses played in lessening the detrimental impacts of isolation and anxiety associated with uncertainty around lockdown,” Ward said.
“It is also of note that the pro-social actions undertaken by individuals to benefit the community had the potential to improve the wellbeing of those undertaking the activities — as well as the community they sought to benefit.
“It is hoped that such information will promote action within the industry to protect the mental health and wellbeing of its community, using actions which combat the issues raised in this research.”
Ward AB, Stephen K, Argo CM, Harris PA, Watson CA, Neacsu M, et al. (2021) COVID-19 impacts equine welfare: Policy implications for laminitis and obesity. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0252340. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0252340
Ward, A.; Stephen, K.; Argo, C.; Watson, C.; Harris, P.; Neacsu, M.; Russell, W.; Grove-White, D.; Morrison, P. The Human Aspect of Horse Care: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted the Wellbeing of Equestrian Industry Stakeholders. Animals 2021, 11, 2163. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11082163