Researchers explore how best to assess equine quality of life

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A review of existing QoL models highlighted that most do not consider the horse’s mental health and that in a real-world situation most would be difficult to apply consistently, accurately or frequently.
A review of existing QoL models highlighted that most do not consider the horse’s mental health and that in a real-world situation most would be difficult to apply consistently, accurately or frequently. © World Horse Welfare

Assessment of an equine’s quality of life is a highly debated topic yet there is little scientific agreement on how it is best carried out.

A recently published report from the Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence (AESE) project lays the foundation for effective measurement of this difficult to assess issue and should positively influence future horse welfare.

Equine quality of life (QoL) has traditionally been considered only at key points in a horse’s life – most notably when end-of-life decisions need to be made – but the case study by the AESE project concluded that QoL should be considered throughout all stages of the horse’s life.

During 2021, students from several institutions throughout the UK took part in the AESE’s Quality of Life Virtual Case Study. The students from Hartpury University, University Centre Askham Bryan and University Centre Sparsholt, used a combination of literature reviews, surveys and interviews to understand how equine QoL was perceived, and how it could be measured in various situations.

One element of the study covered a review of existing QoL models which highlighted that most do not consider the horse’s mental health and that in a real-world situation most would be difficult to apply consistently, accurately or frequently.

It also revealed a significant disparity between what researchers consider feasible to measure under real-life conditions and what horse owners either currently do or feel able to do/incorporate.

Any QoL assessment tool will need to be both effective and practical in real life for all those caring for horses, but that tool will support horse owners and carers and can be powerful in analysing the horse’s response to management techniques, training and even response to treatment when injured or ill.

The project was supported by World Horse Welfare in partnership with The Horse Trust.

Sam Chubbock, Head of UK Support at World Horse Welfare, said the research is a step in “setting a baseline for where the horse world is on measuring QoL”.

Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence study coordinator Dr Georgina Crossman described the students of today as “the owners and carers of horses and ponies of tomorrow”.

They will have their own experience of how quality of life can be measured through an animal’s lifetime, she said.

“Recognising the Quality of Life Continuum and that any assessment tool will need to be collaboratively developed between researchers and those dealing with horses in real life is a big step towards producing a usable QoL measure that will, ultimately, improve horse welfare.”

At the end of the project the students presented their findings to a panel of representatives from the equine sector, including World Horse Welfare and The Horse Trust, and their final report will feed into future research and development of a QoL assessment tool.

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