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World Horse Welfare Conference

Subjects and opinion from the World Horse Welfare Annual Conference: Part 2

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Who is Responsible?

In the second part of our round-up of the World Horse Welfare Conference, we discuss the importance of communicating the right message, equine flu and the power of social media to educate.

 

We all know that social media can be a vice and a virtue in the equine world. Fake news, incorrect information from “armchair experts” and cyber bullying is a modern day problem. YouTube sensation Esme Higgs talked about how she is trying to put this powerful tool to good use. The 18 year old amateur rider is working with the FEI and other equine organisations, together with charities, to produce videos on horse care and correct horse practice. The objective is to help other young equestrians learn more about horses, riding and welfare. Esme is working closely with World Horse Welfare to deliver positive messages to a global audience.

 

Equine Influenza was a key subject of the Conference and it was a shock to learn that only 30 % of British horses are vaccinated. Speaking on the subject was Dr Madeleine Campbell, a vet and European Diplomate in Animal Welfare Science, Ethic and Law.

 

Equine flu can be devastating. It affects the respiratory system, leading to fever, coughing and mucous. It can be debilitating and effect the lungs long term. Ultimately, it can kill. There was an outbreak in Africa, which resulted in the loss of over 100,000 horses and donkeys. Australia fared even worse with the Hendra virus which killed not only horses but vets and horse owners who came into contact with infected animals. They also suffered an outbreak of equine flu in 2007, the industry was shut down for six months and the country was not declared free of the disease until 10 months later.

 

In the UK, we experienced the fear factor and potential for huge disruption earlier this year, when several racehorses tested positive to equine influenza. All racing and equestrian sport came to a standstill until it was assured to be under control. It made headline news and cost the racing industry between £150m and £200m. It could have been so much worse and trainers and riders alike were praised for their professionalism and discipline in halting the movement of horses. The question remains at large, who is responsible for ensuring that horses are vaccinated? Is it the vets, the owners, the sports governing bodies?

 

Some responsibility lies with the pharmaceutical companies who produce the vaccine, Dr Campbell states. “Flu changes all the time and can become immune to the vaccines. Many of the drugs still available on the market, are old and it is up to the producers to keep it up to date.”

 

What is confusing and raises opinion, is that all the sport bodies seem to regulate a different frequency. For example, FEI rules state that horses competing must be vaccinated every six months, whilst outside of this in sports such as racing and Pony Club, it is once a year. How can we possibly know what is right or wrong for horse welfare, with such conflicting regulations?

 

However, the overall conclusion is that we should focus on the benefits of health and welfare of the horse rather than the competition regulators. At the end of the day, consider that if you choose not to vaccinate your horse and he is exposed to equine flu, he could die. Not to mention the grave consequences, that could arise if it is not kept under control with vaccines as the strains could mutate and be immune to the vaccine.

 

Horse owners often say that their horse doesn’t go anywhere so there is no need to vaccinate but if he is in a stable yard alongside horses who do compete or leave the yard, these horses could bring back the virus. The higher the vaccination percentage in the overall population, the less opportunities there are to infect horses.

 

HRH The Princess Royal, as long standing President of World Horse Welfare closed the conference, with her thought provoking conclusion on “Who is Responsible?”

Princess Anne - World Horse Welfare
World Horse Welfare Conference 2019

 

“Responsibility is not an academic subject. It comes inherently but it needs to be defined. There is so much knowledge out there but it doesn’t translate to power” she said. We must understand and respect the importance of horses to individuals and societies not just the 100 million working horses around the world but also those in first world countries, Princess Anne advocated.

 

Finally, she reinforced the importance of seeing our horses as partners and understanding their needs. “Animals can adapt, as seen with those working for the Riding for the Disabled Association and we should not underestimate horses ability to make decisions. We need to listen to what they are telling us and be prepared to be their partners. It is our responsibility to ensure it is a good partnership and that we learn not just their physical needs but also their emotional needs.”

 

Written by Horse Scout’s Ellie Kelly who was in attendance at the World Horse Welfare Annual Conference 2019.

The power of the horse bond

Subjects and opinion from the World Horse Welfare Annual Conference: Part I

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Who is Responsible?

Who is responsible for a horse? Is it the owner? Or the breeder who made the decision to breed him or the vet who oversees his health? The trainer who educates horse and rider? Or is it the governing bodies who make the rules or even the welfare organisations to protect and remedy?

 

I am lucky enough to be invited to The World Horse Welfare Annual Conference each year, alongside representatives from all the principal equine, veterinary and animal health bodies and societies from all over the world. It never fails to throw up some interesting questions and spark intelligent debate and this year, the theme was “Who is Responsible? A number of high profile speakers came to give their view on who is responsible for equine welfare, the power of horses to human emotion and how we communicate the right message.

 

The first speaker of the conference was Annamarie Phelps, the recently appointed as the Chair of the British Horse racing Authority (BHA). An ex Olympic rower who has worked for a variety of sports governing bodies, Annamarie has first-hand experience of the complex political and regulatory issues which comes with horse sport and equine welfare.

Wold Horse Welfare Conference

Horse racing faces an everyday challenge with image, not just from animal activists but an ever increasing percentage of the general public, who believe that racing is cruel and should be banned. Annamarie reinforced the stringent welfare policy that the BHA conduct but also reminded us of the benefits and happiness which working with horses brings to so many of all ages and social backgrounds. “We have seen the therapeutic power of horses to broken people” she said.

 

She spoke of the financial contribution the BHA is making to health and welfare, with a £32 million levy directed entirely at veterinary research. In addition the BHA have commissioned a project with Bristol University to measure the welfare and wellbeing of a large number of racehorses so that we be able to improve our understanding and identify potential risks for both sport and race horses.

 

Her closing message was clear: “We need to work together as lovers of horses. We must be transparent when communicating our message and inspire with the power of sport. We must also have empathy for the doubters and have a deeper understanding of the people we need to reach”.

 

Rachel Murray from the Animal Health Trust and Rossdales Equine Hospital has led numerous studies on equine training, injury and performance, including improving understanding of horse and tack interaction. Her latest study is on the effect of bridles to a horse’s well-being and way of going. Extensive experiments and analysis were conducted on a number of horses of different breed and sporting use around the world. The following conclusions were drawn:

 

  • There are important and sensitive bone structures in the head, which means a correctly fitting bridle and bit is key to the comfort of the horse.
  • Pressure points on the head, change position with movement.
  • A correctly fitting drop, grackle or crank noseband offers less pressure than a cavesson and flash.
  • By decreasing pressure under the nose and head, the evidence shows improved knee, shoulder and hock action.
  • When fitting a bridle, take each horse as an individual and assess the anatomy of their head and mouth. This means off-the-peg bridles may not be suitable.

 

Lynsey Stride, a Commoner from the New Forest gave an enlightening talk on the importance of the New Forest ponies to the surrounding wildlife. There is scientific evidence that the ponies and their “natural” existence actually help conserve the eco-system. In turn, Lynsey raised the question “How often do we think about the effect of our horse and paddock management to nature?”

 

This included how and where we disposed of muck and what hay and grass our horses were consuming. For example, the fairly recent trend towards rye grass may well be detrimental to horse health and the environment as it is a grass not actually native to the UK. Pasture management was another key issue. “We need to see ourselves land managers as well as horse-owners” Lynsey argues. “You see too many pastures eaten to the bone and not given time to replenish. Seeing fungi in your field is a good indicator of pasture quality and hedgerows are far better for the environment than electric fencing.”

 

“Animal hoarding” was discussed and defined by Bronwen Williams, a former mental health nurse, now an educator and researcher into the impact of animals on human mental health. Bronwen is currently delivering a project with World Horse Welfare which aims to train welfare staff in interventions for those at risk of, or involved in, the hoarding of animals.

 

Many of us know owners and breeders whose number of horses have spiralled out of control. Perhaps we even question our own practice. I know I have, when winter sets in and I question “how have I ended up with so many horses at this time of year?” Beyond the level of my own small holding of much loved horses, animal hoarding is a growing problem in the UK. It is not only horse lovers who can be held responsible. Indiscriminate breeding even at the highest level is rife, with raised ambitions and sky high prices given for good horses, there are few breeders who are not chasing “the one”. So often these horses end up unwanted or are off-loaded on naïve individuals.

 

Bronwyn argued that the problem required more agency input, as well as an understanding for the human behaviour behind animal hoarding, be that horses or other species. “It comes down to human behaviour change and we need to support these owners and at the same time recognise the importance of animals to some people’s mental health.”

 

Coming up in part two: the power of social media to communicate and distort, equine flu and the risk of equine disease and an important message from HRH Princess Royal.

 

Written by Horse Scout’s Ellie Kelly who was in attendance at the World Horse Welfare Annual Conference 2019.