CONSIDERING “what it’s like for a horse to be a horse” must be on the coronary heart of efforts to enhance equine psychological wellbeing, it has been proposed.
A World Horse Welfare webinar on 25 August, supported by the University of Nottingham, coated how finest to assist horses’ psychological well being. Andrew McLean, a zoologist who specialises in coaching horses and elephants, having represented Australia in eventing and ridden to grand prix stage in dressage and showjumping, was joined by former champion jockey and pundit John Francome, and long-term World Horse Welfare employees member Caroline Heard.
Dr McLean, who additionally co-founded the International Society for Equitation Science, spoke of what has modified in equestrian administration and coaching within the final 100 years, and the place they’re heading.
“I think this is the most exciting presentation I’ve ever put together,” he mentioned.
Dr McLean mentioned science has had a big impact on equine bodily well being, however “science hasn’t always helped us understand horses’ minds”.
He mentioned we nonetheless perceive animals by way of the ethological impact, speaking about hierarchy, for instance.
“That’s a big legacy because when we talk about animals in terms of hierarchy, and say, ‘This one’s dominant over that one,’ it leads us to thinking about and training horses in terms of dominance; that narrative is very strong,” he mentioned.
But he added that the “new frontier” is equitation science, “unpacking horse training”, and growing understanding.
“In terms of welfare, the horse has always been seen in terms of its utility, and the aim in looking after them was to give them a better life,” he added, explaining that this has moved on from a “better life” to “a more worthwhile life”.
“What’s it like to be a horse?” he requested. “But we need to ask, what’s it like for a horse to be a horse, a fundamentally different question as it takes the human out of the equation.”
Dr McLean mentioned all animal industries are topic to rising expectations of welfare, typically pushed by social media. He cited the shift in direction of whip-free racing – he’s on the board of Racing Victoria and a whip ban is on the playing cards – and deal with tight nosebands and rollkur.
He believes science might be extra embraced in future, to enhance welfare and make coaching extra environment friendly; understanding horses’ pondering will imply higher efficiency in addition to happier horses.
“It’s a great and exciting future,” he mentioned, including that he hopes individuals will transfer past anthropomorphism and take into account horses’ complete lives, quite than how they’re at any given second.
He additionally believes there could also be licences vital for horse possession – “nothing onerous and difficult, but there are basic elements all owners should understand”.
“We need to amalgamate behaviour and vet science and continue looking at how we use whips and double bridles; should we be instead privileging trainers who can get the best results with the least amount of weaponry and coercion?” he requested, including that the game must be “ahead of the game”, and that the FEI ought to take into account this, and launch a assume tank, to make sure horse sport has a sustainable future.
He mentioned he hopes horse sport will endure, however with change.
“We need to modernise or perish,” he mentioned. “Sustainability is what we all need to be looking at.”
In a panel dialogue, the consultants have been requested whether or not an absence of proprietor understanding impacts equine psychological well being.
Dr McLean mentioned of all horses’ primary wants, “the one we’re worst at is socialisation”, that we are inclined to neglect how social equines are, and the way vital that is, including: “That’s an area of welfare we need to improve, and there are gold medals in it if you get it right.”
He additionally mentioned individuals have to “get training right”; abandoning punishment for “bad” behaviour, together with non-compliance.
Mr Francome added: “If you haven’t got happy horses, you won’t get the best out of them.”
He cited a coach who would spend hours watching his horses, to know what regular behaviour was for every, so he would then know if one thing was fallacious. World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers and Dr McLean agreed; every horse is a person and must be handled as such.
Asked if house owners normally have the abilities to optimise equine psychological wellbeing, Mr Francome mentioned no.
“A big problem facing the horse world is the poor standard of riding and basic horse management,” he mentioned. “People need to be educated when they learn to ride, to realise they’re on a living animal and should think about nothing but what that horse is thinking, where it’s putting its feet and what’s best for it. Basic standards of riding and horse management need a kick up the backside.”
Mr Owers agreed, including: “There’s so much education out there, but there’s never been so much ignorance.”
Asked about instruments to evaluate equine wellbeing, Ms Heard cited developments corresponding to behavioural ethograms that may assist, in addition to having an open thoughts.
“The horse world is very traditional, and ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’, and it can be difficult to step back and say, ‘Although you’ve done something for 20 years, maybe something else will help,’” she mentioned. “If you keep open-minded, you can see positive results and the benefits of change.”
She added: “There’s so much research coming out. I think people want to give their horses the best but it’s easy to slip into confusion, and the things coming out give me hope that we’re on track to improving equine mental wellbeing and welfare.”
Whips and spurs have been talked about once more – Mr Francome mentioned it’s “not right that in 2021, we’re still hitting horses who are trying their hardest” – and Ms Heard mentioned such tools ought to solely be used as aids, including: “If you’re using whips, spurs or whatever as punishment, that’s not a healthy way to train your horse”.
In summing up, Ms Heard mentioned equine psychological well being is a “massive topic”.
“It affects everything we do with our horses,” she mentioned. “I think we’re going to learn so much in the next few years; watch this space.”
Dr McLean mentioned house owners ought to study all they will, about different animals in addition to horses, and about what could be performed to make their lives higher.
“Think about it not from a human point of view but from the horse’s,” he mentioned. “Think about what it’s like for a horse to be a horse.”
- What do you assume are the massive points in equine psychological wellbeing? Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org, together with your title, nearest city and nation, and you might win a bottle of Champagne Taittinger
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