What do the industry standards for equine welfare mean and why do we need to uphold them in order for best practice to return.

By Emma McCauley

Across the globe there are many different variations of what equine welfare is and what it stands for. After 20 years in the industry and being in a large number of establishments, equine welfare is either paramount or it’s very low, and the horses are treated as a commodity and disposable.

I hear the query on a regular basis “ oh we never did that with our horses back in the day “, why does the horse need to be seen by XYZ professionals regularly? “ What would horses do if they were in the wild, Sure they survived for long enough it will be grand “. As we humans further domesticate the horse there is a need for proper welfare plans to be put in place to ensure that all their needs are met! 

It works from the equine ethogram of the following being satisfied:

  1. Food– Constant, balanced diet of high quality roughage and forage.
  2. Friends– They need time to be a horse with other horses as the horse is a social herd animal and often the more nervous they are the more they would depend on the herd in the wild.
  3. Freedom – Need for turn out, be it on sand or grass or all weather, they need time out of the stable every day and riding isn’t enough – freedom also covers freedom of pain, discomfort, neglect and abuse and education is key to ensure this point is covered.

I devised a checklist for all horse owners to help keep their equines in tip-top condition and ensure the above is always satisfied, and to ensure nothing is ever missed. I train all my horses and clients using this checklist and the return from the horse is huge in regards to performance as well as relationship building.

  1. Hoof care – Needs to be attended to by a qualified master farrier every 6- 8 weeks and for remedial shoeing may need attention more often.
  2. Vaccinations – Annually, unless competing in international competitions, then it’s every 6 months – vaccine standards vary from country to country so it’s important to check this upon registration for the competition as you will risk elimination if your horse isn’t fully vaccinated to the countries standard.
  3. Saddle and bridle fit – Most tack, before a rider will even mount amounts to 3 to 5 kg on its own, so it is very important that it is checked for fit, and wear and tear regularly by a qualified master saddler.
  4. Physio – Every single yard I go into has a “backman” that comes and treats the horses, but did you know that there are different levels and qualifications which make each therapist unique in their style of delivery and how they target muscles? What I recommend my clients to help them achieve their goals after therapy is listed below. Also, each horse is an individual so may need to skip a level to get the issue sorted.
    • Sports and rehab massage therapy. 
    • Veterinary physio.
    • Veterinary chiropractics.
    • Veterinary intervention.
  1. Vet annual check – Once a year have your vet do a health check to ensure your horse is in peak condition.
  2. Dental – Every 6 to 12 months horses will need a visit from the dentist to ensure that their teeth are filed down to prevent issues eating and infection.
  3. Rewarding the horse – Ensuring that the horse feels happy in their work by providing rewards.
  4. Access to turn out and friends – This doesn’t have to be 100 acres of meadow and 20 friends but the horse as mentioned previously is a social herd animal and if they don’t have access to a social setting it can often have huge health effects as well as behavioural.
  5. Access to shelter – If the horse is stabled or living out they need a rug on their back and somewhere to take shelter to keep safe and dry during bad weather.
  6. Access to food and water – The most important one especially during winter as there is less grass, you will need to provide other sources of nutrition and ensure the horse has water at all times.

Once the ethogram and needs of the horse are met and they are free from pain etc, the horse will automatically add you to their herd and begin to form a bond with you as a result and look to you for guidance when they are unsure both on and off the saddle. The performance results follow and they will be more willing to work with you as they are happy in themselves. Just like humans, if there is a barrier preventing happiness in work, this can affect work output and performance. I say to my clients a lot “treat the horse as you would like to be treated and then the horse will only ever respond positively .”


What do the industry standards for equine welfare mean and why do we need to uphold them in order for best practice to return.

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