Horses: Misbehaving or Misunderstood?

 The question of how we interact with horses, whilst at the same time ensuring horse and human safety and good welfare, is central to all who work with horses.  The incidence of equine related accidents is rising, and there is serious concern over the welfare of horses, particularly as a result of some handling and training methods.  Equine welfare charities are overwhelmed with the number of horses and ponies being given up for rehoming, with 25% being labelled unmanageable due to behavioural problems.
 
A survey commissioned by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) in 2013 found that equine vets are at the highest risk of injury of all the civilian professions.  Researchers also found that on average, horse riders are 20 times more likely to have an accident than motorbike riders. 
 
To address these issues, over 60 equine industry professionals met at the British Horse Society Headquarters in Kenilworth, Warwickshire to discuss how to achieve safer and more humane interactions with horses and improve handler safety and horse welfare.  The key organisations behind the event were Ceva Animal Health, the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, the National Equine Welfare Council and Redwings Horse Sanctuary.
 
Representatives from the veterinary and farriery professions, the British Horse Society, veterinary schools, universities and colleges, equine charities and behaviour and welfare professionals attended. 
 
APBC member Professor Natalie Waran PhD, Director of the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education, chaired the event and gave an overview of the current situation of horse and handler welfare across equestrian disciplines.  Loni Loftus BSc (Hons), MSc, behaviourist and course manager of the Equine Science and Management degree at Askham Bryan College, also APBC, explained the behaviourist’s role within a multidisciplinary approach to improving horse management and training. 
 
View Natalie Waran and Loni Lofthouse’s presentations: 
Natalie: Happy Horses make Happy, Safe Owners
Loni: The Behaviourist's Perspective 
 Delegates also took part in group workshops which addressed two aspects of safety and welfare:
· the most common areas of behaviour and welfare affecting the average horse owner in their day to day life; and
· ways in which equine industry practitioners could increase both awareness and availability of evidence based guidance to help both horse and owner.
 
The key outcomes from the workshops were:
Areas of behaviour and welfare affecting average horse owners:
· Misinterpretation of normal horse behaviour, including not reading fear or pain correctly;
· Lack of basic knowledge of horse care, ethology, or the essential Five Freedoms of animal welfare;
· Unrealistic expectations of horse ability / intelligence / owner ability
 
How to increase awareness and availability of soundly based guidance:
·  Produce a centralised, cohesive, standardised and accessible information resource, with a comprehensive database of contacts/experts, and indicators for when to refer on to a behaviour specialist;
·  Develop behaviour and welfare standards relevant to the equine species;
·  Embed behaviour and welfare training in the culture of academic and professional bodies, to cascade knowledge to owners and to promote a multidisciplinary approach to behaviour, health and welfare.
 
Industry sectors were invited to take these outcomes forward with their own members with a view to reconvening later in 2016.