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A standardised 'rego' system would be a boon for horse care

Published:14 February 2018

Associate Professor Kirrilly Thompson.

Consideration should be given to compulsory national registration for all horses in Australia.

That's according to CQUniversity's Associate Professor Kirrilly Thompson and her co-authors on a newly-published snapshot of Australian horse care, based on an online survey.

Almost one in five participants in the survey reported that their horse had no permanent objective identifier, such as a brand.

Many horses were subjected to painful or invasive identification procedures such as branding or microchipping. Despite this, there was no standard approach to identification applied across all breeds on a national level.

"The lack of unique identification poses the greatest risk in terms of traceability in the face of disease outbreaks and for the reunion of owners with horses who have been stolen, abandoned, or lost in a natural disaster or other circumstances," the authors say.

No large-scale welfare issues were identified, but there were some areas of potential concern, including owners who did not regularly deworm their horses (4%), a lack of strategic parasite control (3.1%), and a lack of regular dental care (11%). Several participants did not have their horse’s hooves regularly shod or trimmed (2%), and 14% had an unqualified person maintain their horse’s hooves. One in five owners (19%) did not vaccinate their horses against tetanus.

The co-authors concluded that, while their results emphasised the need for equine welfare guidelines and codes of practice to be regularly updated, they also suggested a need for more social marketing and communications research to determine how horse owners and carers engage with and adopt information on horse welfare, if at all.

"Above all, the neglect of any horse is lamentable, and the potential for normalising low horse welfare standards in any locale warrants vigilant approaches to research, extension, and human behaviour for changes in horse welfare to occur."

Horse Husbandry and Preventive Health Practices in Australia: An Online Survey of Horse Guardians has been published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

Associate Professor Thompson says this was the first national survey to find out how Australian horse owners provide routine health care across Australia.

"What we didn’t survey was owner knowledge, so we don’t know how big the gap was between what owners know is appropriate care and what they actually do. But we know there is a gap – as there is with all human behaviours.

"We all have ways of justifying what we do – and don’t do! This is why it is so important that as researchers we don’t just rely on providing education and information. If we really want to change human behaviour to increase animal welfare, we have to engage with animal owners in ways that are meaningful to them.

"That’s why we are also involved in research working closely with animal owners to find out what they want, and then incorporating welfare messages around that. Whilst we interpreted our findings against The Australian Horse Welfare Protocol, our survey-based research is never about judging, but finding out where people need our help."

* Associate Professor Thompson's co-authors included Dr Larissa Clarkson from the Australian College of Applied Psychology,  Professor Christopher Riley from Massey University (NZ), and Dr Mariette van den Berg from MB Equine Services in NSW.

** Kirrilly is the Theme leader of the CQUni Appleton Institute’s ‘Animals and Environment’ research group. She also collaborates with colleagues in CQUni’s Institute for Future Farming Systems. Kirrilly has been contracted by the Australian Horse Industry Council to analyse the data it collected for the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy. She welcomes applications from honours, masters and PhD students looking to conduct research on human-animal relations.