What would you list as a threat to the welfare of horses in Canada? What actions could we take to fix this? Questions like these may not always be the first thing on the mind of most horse lovers, but they are extremely important to the continued success and growth of Canada’s horse industry. Recent research led by Cordelie DuBois and Dr. Katrina Merkies at the University of Guelph has shed light on the answers to these questions and more, giving us a better picture of the perceptions of welfare in the Canadian horse industry.

The research team asked equine professionals to participate in a survey that consisted of several rounds of questions like the ones above. DuBois explains “In the first round of questions, participants were asked to identify issues related to equine welfare in Canada. In the following rounds, participants were asked to rank the issues by importance. The results revealed that ‘ignorance’ was one of the issues that appeared most often in people’s top five ranking.” In other words, a major risk to a horse’s well-being is a care-giver who does not know that what they are doing may negatively impact the health and well-being of the horse. Examples of this could be related to management decisions, such as: inappropriate blanketing or stabling 24 hours of the day, or health decisions, such as lack of a parasite control program or failing to provide proper hoof care. DuBois points out that there are two types of “ignorance” that may apply to the survey responses. The first is simply that people do not know any better, and the second is that people believe they know all they need to know and therefore close the door on learning more. Although it’s tempting to believe that we know all there is to know about a certain subject, the reality is that we very often “don’t know what we don’t know”. We owe it to our 4-hooved partners to acknowledge this fact, and to remedy it by taking an active role in educating ourselves and staying up to date with evidence-based, scientific findings.

Interestingly, evidence of the important role that education can play in equine welfare was also highlighted in the survey results. Participant’s brainstormed ways to address issues related to equine welfare in Canada, and ranked them in order of effectiveness. Increased education for all people who work with horses was among the solutions that appeared most often in people’s top five. Increased education and awareness efforts would provide care-givers with knowledge and understanding of current standards of care, while also highlighting potential dangers to a horse’s well-being.

Overall, DuBois states, “This study provides us with baseline data in the previously under-explored area of welfare perceptions in the Canadian equine industry. Additionally, data from surveys like this can help direct industry-wide strategies to improve welfare as well as future research into areas of concern.”

Stay tuned to Equine Guelph to hear more about DuBois’ PhD work, including the design and application of an on-farm welfare assessment tool. She notes, “Improving equine welfare is not just about changing the horse’s environment; it involves understanding the role of the human caregiver and what drives them to manage their horses the way that they do.”

DuBois’ work is funded in part by Equine Guelph.

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