Horses in the UK
Table of Contents
We keep a vast number of horses in the UK (estimates suggest about 1,000,000), whether for pleasure or for sport. They are incredibly willing servants and do so well for us, by and large. It is vital that we do all we can to maintain welfare for these noble creatures.
There is a small number of neglect cases in the UK, as in any country. These are, happily, not common and education should help to prevent such unfortunate events. There are some more common areas that the AVMC would like to flag up, however, as ‘welfare hotspots’, to which every caring ‘owner' should attend. Of course, there are others, but these points are of frequent concern to us. There are 15 main points:
1. Saddling – The general situation in the UK is not good. There are times, driving around the country, when it is tempting to ask riders to get off their horses and take a look at the saddle, so obvious are the faults, even from a distance. This is not negligence, on the part of most riders. They often seek the advice of the saddling industry. Much needs to be done to improve the general standard of saddling, so that horses can be ridden (and enjoyed) without pain (see saddling).
2. Shoeing – If a horse’s shoe is put on in an unbalanced way, it will cause trouble. Many horses that I see have one or other foot displaying some sort of balance problem. Any imbalance should be promptly corrected, for welfare reasons (see shoeing).
3. Backs – There are many horses working with bad backs. It is common in the human world, why not also in the equine world? Affected horses require chiropractic manipulation. Regular attention is advised, from a properly qualified practitioner (see chiropractic).
4. Riding schools – While most establishments are good to their horses, some do exploit them. Veterinary inspection needs to be a more detailed affair than it is now, including examination of feed, saddles and tack. In many schools, one saddle is expected to fit several horses. If proper saddling can’t be afforded, the school should not continue.
5. Competition & Racing yards – We have the privilege of visiting some very caring yards. The horses have time to go out in the fields most days and they have very careful individual attention. They are not competed when it is likely to damage them and they are given time to get over any injury. Their backs are regularly checked and they are well-groomed. This is a formula for basic care and should apply in all yards. Not all yards live up to this high ideal and we hope for improvements. Some of these yards understand the benefits of natural medicine and have adjusted their methodology to work effectively with homeopathy, acupuncture and other therapies. Horses and diseases are viewed with different eyes. Possibly the most important adjustment, in this regard, is to realise that the ‘quick fix' is not always possible but that homeopathy and acupuncture can bring about unexpected results when given time and when proper feedback is given.
6. Showing – There is nothing wrong with pride in one’s animal charges and in the quality of one’s care. I believe, however, that it can work to the detriment of the very animals we love, when showing custom demands overweight as the optimum. Laminitis, skin disease, liver disease and arthritis can all result from the overfeeding of animals. I plead for a reduction in the weight and condition desired by show judges.
7. Teeth – Regular attention to teeth is essential, in order to monitor wear patterns and occlusion. This is a welfare necessity, especially when feeding concentrate (‘hard') feeds.
8. Keep – Some horses are in homes which can ill afford them. This can lead to the cutting of corners in shelter or pasture quality. Horse-keeping is extremely expensive. It is best not to keep a horse that you cannot really afford. The purchase price is only a proportion of the eventual and regular expense.
9. Rugs – It is vital that the rug you put on a horse is a good fit and does not put undue pressure on the wither or other area of the body. It must also be of sufficient quality to stand the wear and must be in good repair. If straps break or a rug comes half off, terrible injuries can result.
10. Injury – It is important to ensure that there are no dangerous obstacles in the yard or field, that could cause injury. Abandoned machinery, chain harrows, rolls of wire, barbed wire, forks, mowers, broken fences, fallen trees, loose ropes, sheet steel, dilapidated shelters, staples, nails and other items have all been known to cause injury.
11. Sprays & Artificial Fertilisers – We have seen serious and extremely painful laminitis, even in larger horses, following the fertilising of fields with artificial nitrogen or the spraying of nettles (even with so-called ‘livestock-friendly’ sprays). We advise very strongly that no herbicides or artificial fertilizers should ever be applied near horse paddocks (see artificial nitrogen, pasture management).
12. Over-Vaccination – There is no science behind annual boosters. Many horses suffer ill-effects of vaccination, yet competition rules (except British Dressage) demand an up-to-date vaccination certificate. This procedure is not safe for every horse (see vaccination) and is not based on scientific evidence.
13. Working on Bute – If a horse has sufficient problem for Bute (or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug – NSAID) to be prescribed, he should not be in work. If it seems to be required long-term, it is important to try to find a healing solution for him, e.g. from natural medicine (see therapies), in order to eliminate the need for such ongoing drug input.
14. Insurance – It is perhaps wise to obtain insurance, in order to protect you and your horse from the ill-effects of sudden and large vet bills. One must be careful to ensure, however, that insurance does not work against the horse, by permitting over-intervention or by demanding death when an animal could otherwise still go on to enjoy life.
15. Feeding – Underfeeding is an obvious problem but rarely occurs. Overfeeding or unsuitable feeding can also be a problem. Always read ingredient labels in detail and ensure that no animal products or other unsuitable ingredients are fed unintentionally (see diets, feeds & supplements, products, nutrition as therapy).
The AVMC offers clients independent advice on all these issues, as an integral part of the service, since they are central to horse welfare.
The Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines Compendium
Since this paper was first drafted, the Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines Compendium has been published. This is a comprehensive document, attempting to clarify many welfare issues for horses and ponies. The document recognises the massive contribution of horses to the rural and national economy and highlights the ‘potential clash of commercial interests of the industry with welfare considerations’. It is heralded, in the Foreword written by the Minister for Rural Affairs, as a ‘triumph of co-operation and understanding between these diverse interests’.
The AVMC welcomes this attempt to stipulate many welfare standards and the listing of many highly relevant documents and publications. We also welcome the legal details and extracts. On the other hand, the AVMC regrets the overt recognition of economic rather than animal needs in the foreword, along with a drift suggesting more importance on what horses do for mankind than what mankind could do for horses. The AVMC feels that the document falls short of capitalising on the opportunity that was presented, in several key areas:
1. The document effectively omits several controversial welfare issues.
2. The foreword congratulates the omission of these, as a ‘triumph of co-operation and understanding’. It is sad, from the horse’s point of view, that the opportunity to grasp certain nettles has been missed.
3. There is no emphasis on the need for properly-fitted saddles for each horse in a riding establishment (§§ 184 – 186).
4. The serious welfare cost of using ill-fitting saddles has not been highlighted.
5. There is no discussion of the ill-effects of incorrect hoof balance on health and welfare (§§ 31 – 33).
6. There is no mention of or comment on the modern ‘bare-foot’ techniques, with advice on how to seek help with this (§§ 31 – 33).
7. There is unequivocal endorsement of annual influenza vaccination, despite the lack of scientific support for this practice and the accepted risk of adverse effects on health and welfare (§ 47).
8. It does not clearly state the fact that homeopathy can only legally be provided by qualified veterinary surgeons. It even implies that ‘lay’ practitioners may legally treat horses. It does state (§ 64) that ‘there is no recognised homeopathic regulatory body …’. This is clearly wrong. The RCVS is the regulator of all veterinary activity and the Faculty of Homeopathy accredits training and qualifications in veterinary homeopathy. The RCVS had taken the opportunity to list in its Register those vets holding the specialist veterinary homeopathic qualification awarded by the Faculty (as of 2000). Sadly, since 2006, it has ceased to do this, for whatever reason.
9. It fails to quote the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 correctly, with regard to interventions by chiropractors and physiotherapists (§ 64).
10. It omits to speak directly against the practice of hot branding. This is a very painful procedure, as anyone who has sustained a burn will know (§ 80).
11. The Weeds Act 1959 appears to be more for people than for horses. Four out of five of the listed ‘weeds’ are not a hazard to horses. The welfare aspects of ragwort are not stressed in the text, whereas the whole paragraph (§ 96) is devoted to the nuisance value to neighbours and potential legal action. Neighbour’s interests are not a matter for a horse welfare document and the key issue is in danger of being lost.
12. There is no guidance offered on feeding and what may constitute a suitable or unsuitable food. There is no mention of the presence of animal products in some feeds or supplements (§§ 14 – 18).
13. There is no mention of the known deleterious effects of using artificial nitrogen on ground to be grazed by horses.
14. There is no mention of the direct health and welfare risks of using agro-chemicals and artificial fertilizers near horses.
15. The category of ‘riding’ is omitted.
16. The category of ‘breaking’ of horses is omitted.
17. The category of working practices in racing and other sporting fields is omitted, except for a mention, in the introduction, that respective governing bodies have rules.
18. The category of the use of horses in animal experiments and in the production of, say, hormone replacement therapy, is omitted.
19. There appears to be no stipulation (or even mention) of minimum daily exercise requirements.
20. There appears to be no mention of the Medicines Act 1968 and the protection that it should afford to horses, by preventing actual or implied medical claims on products, in product literature and in advertisements and ‘editorial advertisements’.
21. There is no word index, for ease of quick reference.
We shall, of course, be submitting these comments in time for the next edition.