AWF: What is Equine Welfare?



Roly qualified from the Cambridge veterinary school in 1992 and was a veterinary officer in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps from 1993-1996 and has been World Horse Welfare CEO since 2008. This is a charity with a wide network of veterinary expertise in the UK and worldwide.

The talk begins with a reminder of the declaration made by all veterinary surgeons at their graduation ceremony before admittance to the RCVS.  As with the other speakers, the 5 welfare provisions were listed before asking ‘Equine Welfare-what do we mean?’

Key issues to answer the questions are: –

  • Weight management
  • Disease prevention
  • Lameness
  • Breeding
  • Insurance
  • End of life issues
  • Supporting performance

He asks whether vets are failing horses. Dilemmas such as a young vet being asked to fire tendons and also it seems that trainers have become in charge of veterinary care in yards-not veterinary surgeons.

Some disturbing statistics include that 30-50% of equines are obese. The profession should be doing more about this problem. Some owners are killing horses with kindness and with time constraints for consultations, it becomes increasingly difficult to persuade owners to slim down their horses.

With regard to disease prevention ‘vets are on livery yards all the time, but how often do they enquire about or advise on biosecurity and isolation procedures?’ And some estimates suggest only about 30% of the equine population are vaccinated against influenza.

Novel attempts to recognise pain due to lameness have not been well received, even at congress level. Development of facial ethograms for horses shows promise and is undoubtedly needed. A study of sports horses, of horses in work with riders that believed they were sound, found that 46% were lame.

There are problems with unwise breeding with owners difficult to persuade that their mare is not a good candidate for breeding.

Insurance enables a vast array of treatments to be available –but is gold-plating therapy in the horses’ best interest?

Clearly, in summary, vets have a key role in influencing owner behaviour across the areas discussed.

Questions following the presentation included: –

  • How much of the problems are due to ‘impostor syndrome?’ Do vets really feel confident to command respect or are they impostors? Quite important to work well with farriers since if both these experts agree then friends of the owner, Dr Google and others will have less influence. It comes back to not allowing other people to occupy what should be the territory of veterinary experts.
  • Discussion on the fact that owners and trainers can be very demanding and opinionated and it is very easy to lose them as clients. Easy, also,  to be ‘downtrodden’ by them.
  • Why do horse owners appear to be so difficult compared to small animal owners? Money? Probably a PhD project to answer this one (reviewer’s comment). A point was made that less moneyed and educated clients can be more difficult.
  • How many human athletes would be sound without the use of NSAIDs? Owners want medication to improve performance-quite an issue for vets at the moment?

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