Brock University Labour Studies Professor Kendra Coulter has launched the Work in Ontario Horse Stables Survey to learn more about the working conditions in the province’s equine sector.

“Compared to a number of European countries, we lack data about the role of horses and horse people in our economy and society,” says Coulter, recipient of Brock’s 2017 Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence.

The survey — aimed at grooms, stable owners and operators, and any other current or former workers in the industry — is part of a larger research project that will lay the groundwork for developing strategies that would “improve the lives of people and horses,” explains Coulter.

“The research is multi-dimensional and involves field research, interviews and policy analysis. The survey component is important because it allows me to hear from more people who are geographically spread out in small workplaces.”

The anonymous survey takes about 20 minutes.

It includes questions about the demographics of workers and their working conditions, workplace experiences and challenges, and human-horse relationships and well-being.

“Caring for horses is deeply rewarding, but also difficult and undervalued work,” says Coulter. “People must perform physically demanding tasks in all types of weather and simultaneously be attuned to the intricacies of horses’ bodies, minds and ways of communicating. It takes skill, knowledge and empathy.”

A 2008 study by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs estimated the annual economic impact of the horse industry in Ontario at around $675 million, with the economic impact in Niagara being $15 million annually.

Coulter’s past human-animal research has resulted in breakthrough studies, such as her work in 2016 with a University of Windsor colleague which reported that Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals enforcement officers are underequipped compared to their police service counterparts and face many instances of disrespect on the job.

Coulter’s innovative research has earned her global acclaim. She was recently inducted into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, and this summer she will be a keynote speaker at a conference on human-horse relations in England, where she will also be handing out the Solidarity Prize for Excellence in Early Career Equine Research, an international award she developed.

At Brock, Coulter supports graduate students with humane jobs fellowships, teaches the Department of Labour Studies’ unique Animals at Work course, and uses the author royalties from her book Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity to support an undergraduate student award.

“In Labour Studies, we are committed to scholarship that promotes social justice,” Coulter says. “More and more people are recognizing that real social justice includes other species.”