Tag Archives: Welfare

Changing times. World Horse Welfare Annual Conference



Last week, Horse Scout’s Ellie Kelly was in attendance at the World Horse Welfare Annual Conference in London. It is an exclusive event attended by leading figures in the world of veterinary medicine, equestrian sport, horse racing, politics, and animal welfare as well as HRH Princess Anne. The theme of the conference this year was Changing Times. Essentially how change- both good and bad, is continuing at a meteoric rate and what the future for equine welfare might hold.


The day was opened by Michael Baines, Chairman of the World Horse Welfare who had recently visited some of their projects in Cape Town and Lesotho which are jointly run with several other charities based in these parts of the world as well as other international animal charities like The Brooke and The Donkey Sanctuary. “I saw firsthand how important it is to take a holistic approach to equine welfare and, to be prepared to work with multiple stakeholders to achieve the best results,”  said Michael.


Perhaps this is a lesson we can all take away generally when striving to improve not only our horses lives but also our own livelihoods and interests in the equestrian sphere. As equestrian sport, recreational riding and general horsemanship evolves and improves in some areas but declines and is devalued in others. The advent and reliance on social media for information and as a marketplace is both a vice and a virtue.


Utam Kaphle, a young professional from Nepal, spoke on the innovative work being done by Animal Nepal. As Executive Director of the charity, he has spearheaded projects to improve animal welfare in the country by working with the local communities. With the help of government institutions, Animal Nepal has helped the lives, health and education of poverty-stricken communities as well as their working animals and the large number of strays which can spread disease.


Four-time Olympic Dressage rider Richard Davison then gave some compelling arguments on what was wrong and right in the sport horse industry. “When we riders, in our quest for success and our competitive side gets the better of our horsemanship.” Rollkur, hyperflexion and nose pressure was a recurrent theme and he expressed the importance of more clarity in the rulebook and more scientific evidence to prove the effects of a tight noseband- more on this in our next blog.


The future of Gypsy Cobs was addressed by Andrea Betteridge, founder of the Traditional Gypsy Cob Association. Andrea has spent decades obtaining and recording historic information and collecting DNA from different herds to prove the heritage of the breed and its historic bloodlines. This formed the foundation for recognition of the breed by British and European governments with member registrations from over 35 countries and the authentic breed database recognised all over the world. Overbreeding has led to the “dumping” of cobs, which the so often become welfare cases. As well as establishing the breed and educating would be breeders on the implications, Andrea has prompted other initiatives such as specialised showing classes and  “Give a Cob a Job”.


Tim Collins, a former Tory MP talked about the perceived implications which Brexit will have on the equine world as well as the enthusiastic following and power that animal charities had at the present time. At this stage in political proceedings, no one really knows what will occur after Brexit. Although he highlighted the reality that nothing will happen quickly as it will take years for the UK to fully leave the EU. “The average time it takes to even join the EU takes a decade and for Estonia, it was 20 years,” he said, with a further warning. “Therefore the issues you care about in the horse world are going to carry on but you must not take our eye off the ball and assume that this is all going to be carried out in the next few months. There is nothing as long as the temporary arrangement. We may have to live with this for a very long time so don’t assume any arrangements can be fixed later. Bear in mind how immensely powerful those of you who care and campaign about animal welfare actually are. For example, the inflection point in the 2017 General election was when the Conservatives got on the wrong side of animal welfare on the ivory trade and fox-hunting and that lesson has been learned deeply in both the party main headquarters. One of the biggest issues amongst the young population is animal welfare, so you guys can be pushing on an open door.”


The next topic covered was how charities and win trust and broaden their horizons. This came from Joe Saxton who featured in the top ten of the most influential people in UK fundraising. He is also the founder of a research consultancy for charities called nfpSynergy. The main pointy to take away was that support for animal charities is well up the national order, featuring higher than charities concerning homelessness, social welfare, overseas aid, religious and environment and conservation. So we Brits remain, “a nation of animal lovers”.


The day was rounded off with a discussion panel between influential veterinary delegates who covered topics such as changes in culture, technology and the internet and social media- friend or foe to both horse owners and vets. Overweight riders and horses were also commented on as this is a welfare issue we all see too often at shows around the country.


The use of artificial aids was also addressed, where Gemma Pearson highlighted horses “limited learning capacity”. She explains: “the spur and whip refine our instructions further so we can be more precise about what we are asking. But what we need to move away from was using the whip and spur for punishment as that is what creates problems”.


The Chief Executive Roly Owers summed up the conference: “When we talk about making change we have to base it around common sense, around experience and around the evidence. The second point is the issue of value. The value of our reputation, the value of time, the value of trust and the value of horses.”


If you would like to watch the Conference in full as well as discussions from previous years, click on the link:



I wish horses could BURP! 10 tips to help stop ulcers spoiling your horses performance


Understanding how the equine digestive system works is key to understanding a horse’s dietary needs, and it is valid to question why horse owners insist on feeding grains to herbivores. There are so many supplements, specialist feeds and different approaches to feeding your horse that it can be difficult to know if you are making the right choice.

Keeping things simple, as simple as you can, is the right approach for the everyday horse owner.

  1. The horse is a grazing animal designed to graze for 16-18 hours per day, consuming low-grade forage,
  2. It has an in-built urge to eat and will not stop until it feels satisfied. Its natural position for eating is with its head down.
  3. Food passes from the horse’s mouth into the oesophagus aided by saliva for lubrication. The saliva is produced in response to chewing and is high in bicarbonate. (A natural antacid)
  4. A horse produces 32-46 litres of saliva per day. The less chewing a horse does, the less saliva it will produce. Eating forage slowly encourages it to produce more saliva.
  5. A horses stomach is small because the horse is a defenceless animal whose natural instinct is to flee from danger andthe stomach impacts on the chest and diaphragm, so if it was too large and too full of food it would inhibit the speed at which the horse could flee.
  6. A horse produces 35-40 litres of gastric juices independently of it eating, so stomach needs to stay at about a third full of fibre and forageto act as a mat in the base of the stomach and hold the acid.
  7. Ceareal based diets mean that the stomach can be emptied too fast and as the horse moves, acid splashes up onto the top of the stomach wall. This, combined with the associated imbalance of alkaline saliva and acid gastric juices, further reduces the pH in the stomach and causes ulcers.
  8. Around 95 per cent of racehorses and 35 per cent of leisure horses have ulcers, but because, as a prey animal, they are not designed to exhibit signs of pain, owners may not be aware of them. However, they can be detected by scoping and they are likely to manifest themselves as behavioural problems.
  9. A horse’s pancreas only produces a finite amount of insulin and if this is used up early in a horse’s life, by having to process an excessive amount of sugar and starch, it will create health issues such as metabolic syndrome. It is so easy to upset the natural balance of your horses digestion tract.
  10. A horse will function best, what ever its job, when fed as closely to its natural diet as is possible, given the restrictions of stabling and restricted grazing.

If you are keeping your horse with a professional trainer on schooling livery or for your own pleasure at a livery yard you will be able to work closely with the professionals in charge of your horses welfare. However, if you are looking after your own horse there are so many products and supplements on the market that it can become tempting to complicate the whole thing and end up causing your horses digestive system to become overloaded or stressed.

Horse Scout Blogger was watching the racing this weekend (along with a few other people I suspect!) One particular trainer recounted that despite a victorious last race of the season before but that something had been nagging at him (the trainer) He knew there was something “not quite right” and tests did show that the horse was suffering from acute ulceration of the stomach. With a change in regime and fodder types the horse had bounced back and was in the best form ever, and indeed was lengths ahead of the rest of the field.

If your horse is being a pain in the neck- look at his back


Don’t be backed into a corner – find out about horses back pain.

Horse Back Problems & Pain

If your horse starts to display uncharacteristic tendencies such as dipping, flinching or nipping when groomed or tacked-up, a poor or reduced performance, unevenness or unlevel gaits, is crooked to ride, carries his tail to one side, is disunited or bucking into canter or rearing or bucking when mounted, it may be due to pain under saddle. Many bad backs in horses are a secondary problem, caused by postural changes adopted by your horse to alleviate pain elsewhere. So once pain in the back area is identified it is best to seek professional advice form your veterinary surgeon.

When testing for a normal reaction in a horses back run you fingers and thumb firmly down either side of the spinal process.

A normal horse should dip its back when pinched along the spine behind the saddle area; this is often misinterpreted as a sign of pain. A horse with back pain will fail to dip, instead their backs are tense and rigid to resist movement as it is painful to move

Equine back pain can have many causes so use a methodical approach to solve back pain problems.

The horse’s back is a large and complex structure with a multitude of physical functions to perform. It is centred around a long boney column made up of individual vertebrae, which house and protect the important nervous tissue of the spinal cord and act as the scaffold onto which the muscles and ligaments attach.

The spine can be divided into five main sections,

  1. the neck,
  2. the thoracic (chest) spine,
  3. the lumbar spine,
  4. the sacrum and
  5. the tail.

Here we will concentrate on the neck, the thoraco-lumbar region together and a little in the sacral region but pain can originate in any of the structures of the back; and we can see bone pain, muscular pain, ligament pain, nerve tissue pain or any combination of all four.

The neck

The neck is a very mobile part of the spine, acting to hold up the very heavy head of the horse and move it to all the positions necessary. (I never reaslised just how heavy until I fond a pony skull out on Dartmoor.  This is a small animal and the skull was nearly 15 kilos!)

This area involves a lot of muscular activity, therefore, muscular pain problems with the neck are common and show up easily. Also, because of the degree of movement required, any abnormality in the joints between the vertebrae in the neck (there are seven), will also show as obvious pain.

The thoraco-lumbar spine

The thoraco-lumbar spine is much less mobile than the neck. Its main function is to store and transfer the energy produced by the powerhouse of the hind-quarters to the front limbs, as well as providing the solid bridge on which a rider can sit and to support the heavy contents of the horse’s abdomen. The sacrum is a group of fused vertebrae which is the bit of the spine the pelvis is joined to by the sacro-iliac joint. This is a very strong joint which does not move, but the energy which it transmits from the hind limbs to the spine means any damage in this region can cause significant pain.


Finding out which part of the back is causing the pain can be very challenging. The process of diagnosis is often far from straight forward. Examination of the back will start with looking for signs of asymmetry in the muscle cover, followed by feeling for signs of pain in any particular area. The degree of mobility (movement) will be assessed directly, such as testing how far the neck can move or by checking the back dips, flexes and moves side-to-side, normally. Wise words, indeed from from Veterinary surgeon Julian Rishworth of the Minster Equine Veterinary Clinic,

Next, watching the horse move at walk and trot in a straight line and on the lunge, together with some specific moves such as turning tight circles on the spot and backing up, often gives clues as to the presence of back pain – as well as identifying any lameness which may be present. Vets will also pull sideways on the tail while the horse walks forward to assess the strength in the back and the horse’s ability to resist being pulled off track.

Apart from a few specific conditions such as over-riding dorsal spinous processes (kissing spines) it is not possible to block out regions of the back, such as can be done in the limbs, therefore, other techniques are required.

Scintigraphyor ‘bone scanning’

Scintigraphyor ‘bone scanning’ relies on radioactive markers highlighting areas of increased bone activity and is ideal for showing up problems with the bones of the spine, such as fractures, kissing spines or arthritis between the vertebrae. Bone scanning is also good at getting information from areas which are difficult to get images from using other techniques, due to their size, such as the pelvis and thoraco-lumbar spine.


X-rays are quite useful for the neck and the tops of the thoraco-lumbar spine, but the large amount of muscle and tissue surrounding the rest of the spine makes getting x-ray images difficult.

Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) would give great pictures of the horse’s back, however, the size of a horse means they do not fit in the machines which are made for humans. These techniques can be used for the upper neck in some cases.


Ultrasound scanning is much more frequently used in the horse’s back and can show changes such as arthritis in the joints between the vertebrae very well. Other soft-tissue injuries can also be detected with ultrasound like damage or cysts within the ligaments of the spine.

Equine thermography

Equine thermography, which is a relatively new form of diagnosis, can pinpoint where any issues are through heat mapping. Imagery from before and after exercise can indicate changes in bloodflow or poinpoint areas of inflammation.

Equine Thermography can help to identify the seat of the primary cause, so this can also be rectified, preventing reoccurrence of back issues.

Laboratory tests

Laboratory tests can be helpful to help diagnose some muscle problems, such as ‘tying-up’.


A lot of back pain can be attributable to spasm of the nerves and muscles and this can respond really well to appropriate physiotherapy. This sort of problem can occur on its own or it can be secondary to lameness in one or more limbs. Chartered physiotherapists will only work under veterinary referral and should the physio find problems which are not responding adequately or keep recurring, they will refer back to a veterinary surgeon to investigate the underlying cause.

Underlying causes

Poorly fitting tack can cause discomfort and some pain but in my opinion is over-used as a cause of equine back problems. It is, of course, important to ensure the tack fits correctly but for all but minor problems in the saddle area, be sure to explore the other possibilities rather than blaming the tack too quickly.


There are a lot of myths surrounding pain in the back, but when approached in a methodical way by qualified professionals the right diagnosis means the most appropriate treatment plan can be developed to give your horse the best chance of a full recovery.

Blown Away!


Cautionary tale for anyone using a mobile field shelter on skids..

During the last week we have been experiencing some pretty strong winds. No doubt making for some interesting riding sessions!! Strong gusting wind and driving rain is never a favourite with me when everything has to be secured, belts and braces to stop tarps blowing off and escapee feedbags racing across the yard and spooking the horses but riding instructor Janine Lamy couldn’t believe it when she saw what had happened to her mare’s wooden stable. It had lifted clean up off its skids and blown into the next field, bashing into some trees and knocking down the perimeter fence.

“it was windy that night, but the stables have survived worse storms,” Janine explains. “it was more gusty and rainy, and generally foul. But the wind must have caught the stable at a certain angle and that was it.”

For husbandry reasons some horses are kept turned out year round but indeed even short-term turn out might benefit from shelter and this is often in the form of horse shelters on skids. Planning regulations mean that permanent stabling must be approved by the local planning office, but non permanent field shelters (i.e. those which can be relocated with a tow hitch and skids), fall outside the need for permission and provide a means of shelter from wind, rain, sun and flies for many owners and yards where horses are regularly at grass. Although the incidence of the drastic uber-mobility of Janine’s field shelter is rare it might be worth considering some form of anchorage that avoids planning infringements (it seems that non permanent anchoring is permissible – but please check with your local authority). One option would be to ensure that the entrance is sited away from the prevailing wind or the shelter is sited with the shelter of trees of another building to reduce the impact of the prevailing wind.

If turn out is important to you make sure you make a point of asking what the yards policy is when visiting the a proposed Livery or Training Establishment. If you are looking for livery and want your horse to be grass kept the safe siting and robustness of the field shelters provided would be a key consideration.

 For yards offering livery services on Horse Scout click here  

Your Responsibilities To Your Horse


Your Responsibilities To Your Horse

Fundamental to all horse ownership is the DEFRA directive that If you own or are responsible for a horse, you have a duty to look after its basic welfare by:

providing it with a suitable place to live
giving it a suitable diet
protecting it from pain, injury, suffering and disease
making sure it can behave normally and naturally

You can be fined up to £20,000 or sent to prison for up to 6 months if you are cruel to an animal or don’t care for it properly. You may also be banned from owning animals in future.

Horse Scout has some wonderful livery yards on this. Click here and find the best place for your horse to livery.