Equine Welfare

Horse keeping is a compromise between horse biology and human requirements. In spite of good human intention, equine welfare can be compromised; sometimes in ways that aren’t even predicted. Yet all who have to do with horses are expected to comply with the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – to act in such a way that the horse is protected from any unnecessary suffering. This leaves us with quite a broad scope of things for consideration:

The fundamental question is: What is welfare?

In 1997, Professor Donald Broome considered it to be the following:

“The state of an individual as regards his attempts to cope with the environment”
Donald Broome and Andrew Fraser, Farm Animal Behaviour and Welfare, CABI 3rd Edition, 1997.

This is typical of the time. During the ‘90’s the predominant welfare science thinking was that if an animal was coping, e.g. they were healthy and behaving normally, then the environment had no negative effect on welfare. The Five Freedoms that had been in existence since the 1960s had catalysed this progress in thinking about about animal welfare; particularly the welfare of production animals in the (then) new industrial scale farming systems.

More adventurous thinkers, such as those who believed that animals are sentient beings, also inferred that the animal was also free from undue negative emotional experiences; so more than just freedom from physical detriment. It is worth noting that negative emotional experiences can be independent from negative physical effects e.g. experiencing chronic frustration and/or fear while otherwise appearing perfectly healthy.

Today scientists who study animal welfare have taken this thinking further, for example:

“Now, animal welfare is equivalent to what the animal experiences”
Prof. David Mellor, Animal Emotions, Behaviour and the Promotion of
Positive Welfare States. New Zealand Veterinary Journal – 2012

The main result of this thinking is the change in ideas about what a suitable living environment is. No longer just somewhere to keep an animal sheltered, fed, watered and free from injury and disease, e.g. a traditional stabling regime. It is also somewhere that the animal can carry out their natural behavioural repertoire, seeking for and gaining pleasure, and not simply being able to avoid negative outcomes:

“In the conscious, sentient animal, the drives to secure food, shelter, social contact, and mates are motivated by desire (appetitive behaviour) and reinforced by pleasure (consummative behaviour).”
Dr. Jonathon Balcombe, Animal pleasure and its moral significance. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 118 (2009) 208–216

It is not simply having all their requirements presented to them on a plate that provides pleasure, it is having the facility of an enriched environment to seek out and gain those requirements for themselves that makeswelfare triangle net life worth living.

What level of welfare is acceptable to you?

Freedom from negative effects on health?
The horse is able to avoid unpleasant emotional experiences?
The horse can freely engage in pleasurable emotional experiences?

Here is my “Rough Guide” to Equine Welfare:

I consider equine welfare in three ways:

Physical health: It goes without saying that poor health = poor welfare.

Emotional health: Welfare is a state that is experienced:

Horses have the same 7 basic neurological systems for emotion as other mammals including us (Panksepp & Biven, The Archaeology of Mind, 2012). Since they have these systems they are capable of experiencing both positive and negative emotional states. Being subject to unavoidable and inescapable negative emotional states, because of an unsuitable living environment and/or training regime, particularly for long periods of time 7 affects netcauses chronic stress, and as such is a welfare concern.

Adaptive lifestyle: Biologically speaking, horses function best in the environment they evolved in. The closer the horse’s living conditions are to that, the greater facility they have for taking care of their selves as they aradaptive lifestyle120e naturally driven to do. Provide this and the likelihood is you will also be providing for physical and emotional health.

Optimising a horse’s welfare is a careful balance of all of the above while minimising detriment. Anyone who is responsible for horses in their care can achieve this, even without the ideal 24/7 turnout lifestyle on perfect free draining land in a perfect year round climate! As well as scientific understanding of how free living horses use the natural environment, I have over a decade’s experience in creating environmental enrichment solutions in a variety of different yards.

I am also well versed in learning theory – the ‘science bit’ about how horses learn – and applying it to training in a humane manner, without causing pain or distress, and even in such a way that the horse becomes a happy participant!

Welfare consultancy services: I provide bespoke welfare consultancy from the behavioural perspective in all aspects of horse training and management for government and local authorities, charities, equine organisations, businesses and private individuals.
For example: yard/housing design; environmental enrichment; horse training strategies; staff training.

5 freedoms120

Please contact me to discuss your requirements.

The Gower Pony Experience

A Gower Pony Experience. In 1998 I was on a mission to conduct a field study for my BSc Honours dissertation. I went to Cefn Bryn to discover what effect Welsh Mountain pony stallion, Dyfed Brigadier, had on the resident mares. He was a temporary resident, leased by the Cefn Bryn Hill Pony Improvement Society for the summer of ’98 only. Three groups of mares banded together to become his harem of 16, chasing away any younger, single mares that tried to join him. In return, he put much of his energy into chasing them back into the group. The tension was palpable. Once he was removed in August, all 16 mares uprooted away from the vicinity of Arthur’s Stone and the west side of Broadpool where they’d stuck by and waited for him to return from his wanderings, trying to solicit mares from the Cefn Stud, Reynoldston. With their new found freedom they sought fresh grazing on the eastern side of the main road where it passes Broadpool. By winter they’d split up into their smaller groups of family and closest friends.

By Jenni Nellist

Starting from October 2015 the Gower Pony Experience is for everyone curious about the natural lives of ponies. The project aims to introduce more people to an understanding and appreciation of the lives of Gower Ponies. Field trips and studies such as Autumn Pony Watch will make it possible for people curious about ponies to participate in scientific research, collaborate with others, and share the findings with the rest of the world – promoting the iconic ponies of Wales.

Autumn Watch

Monday 5th to Saturday 10th October 2015

Get involved with natural science and participate in the first pony watch. Meet the ponies and discover their social groups. Learn about their social behaviour and how they deal with the Autumnal weather. See where they go and what they do. Share your findings with the group, compare them with other feral horse research, and present them to the rest of the world.

Stay in the Gower Bunkhouse, enjoy vegetarian cooking, delight in the other things Gower has to offer. £320.00pp

Non-residential places also available. £220.00pp for all four days. Want to do just one day? Limited spaces available for Tuesday 6th October £80.00 each.

Provisional Program

Monday 5th October 2015

Welcome meal and introduction to the project.


Tuesday 6th October 2015

10am Introductory tour of the common and identification of the pony population

12.30pm Lunch

1.30pm World Cafe: Introduction to the Equid Ethogram and recording behavioural observations.

3.30pm Field observations of pony behaviour.


Wednesday 7th October 2015

9am Group reflection: Field observations

10am World Cafe: Research questions.

12.30pm Lunch

1.30pm Field observations

4.30pm Collate day’s data


Thursday 8th October

9am Field observations

12.30pm Lunch and collate morning data

1.30pm Field observations

4.30pm Collate afternoon data


Friday 9th October

9am World Cafe: Processing and interpreting the data

10am Statistical analysis of the data

12.30pm Lunch

1.30pm World Cafe: Discussion of findings, conclusions, more questions

3.30pm Presentation of the field study – Blog for the Gower Pony Experience and submission to Wild Equid Network

7pm Pub Meal

Booking form: https://docs.google.com/document/d/141mgjlpacP6dTwBVEiwChV0lHN0XoVSKDuLMZI-9VTM/edit?usp=docslist_api