Equine Guelph, the online horse-teaching arm at Canada’s University of Guelph, has launched an awareness campaign centred on horse welfare.
Equine Guelph hopes that its “Full-Circle-Responsibility” educational initiative will help horse owners to develop the necessary tools and skills to make sound management decisions based on scientific research in order to support the well-being of horses.
Developed in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, ‘Full-Circle-Responsibility’ is a welfare educational initiative which stands to benefit the welfare of horses in both the racing and non-racing industries. Development of equine welfare training tools is being funded in part through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.
With the current economic climate, many in the horse industry have been forced to look for ways to live more frugally. Unfortunately in most cases, it’s the horse that suffers.
“The majority of horse owners and riders have a strong attachment to their horses, and would not purposely go out of their way to neglect a horse,” says Gayle Ecker, Director of Equine Guelph. “But proper equine welfare goes far beyond providing the basics of food and water. It’s about how the horse is managing with the conditions in which it lives. It’s about taking full responsibility for horse ownership right up until the end.”
The simple definition of welfare, “quality of life”, can at times be unclear, as this term can mean different things to different people. Nonetheless, everyone can agree that providing good welfare to horses should be based on both physical and mental health.
In the past, society normally regarded equine welfare only as it relates to the animal’s physiology and its environment, such as feeding and shelter. But over the past 15 years, the science of animal welfare has made huge developments in recognizing their needs by expanding the concept of welfare and management issues of the horse to include also their well-being and related tolerable threshold of pain, suffering or neglect.
Just last year, Equine Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) came together to provide horse owners with updated guidelines for general equine management with the release of the new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines.
“The code was developed for both the professional and the individual owner for the health and welfare of horses,” says Jack de Wit, Director with the Equine Canada Board of Directors and Chair of the Code Development Committee.
The Code was established to develop and enforce guidelines for minimum standards for the welfare of the horse. This includes proper nutrition, appropriate shelter, disease prevention and treatment, humane handling, and when necessary, humane euthanasia.
Meanwhile in Ontario, a new organization was formed to contribute to improvements in farm animal care and welfare. Established in January 2012, Farm & Food Care is the first coalition of its type in Canada and resulted from the amalgamation of the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC) and Agricultural Groups Concerned about Resources and Environment (AGCare) in order to bring awareness, appreciation, and information to farmers to help ensure that farm animals are raised in a responsible manner.
“While we do not specifically represent horses at Farm & Food Care, there are many parallels that exist between farm animals,” said Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator of Farm & Food Care Ontario based in Guelph, Ontario. “Regardless of whether you are taking care of a cow, horse, pig or chicken, good farm animal welfare should be the same across all species.”
Farm & Food Care offers a Farm Animal Care Helpline to assist farmers with management-type issues such as thin animals or lack of bedding, but is not meant for legitimate abuse or cases where laws have been broken.
Equine welfare is a human responsibility and should extend beyond our farm gates, says Guelph’s Ecker. “While your horses are being properly cared for, what about the neighbour down the street who has fallen on hard times and is unable to afford sufficient hay to feed his horses?” she asks. “Do we turn a blind eye and hope they’ll be all right until the spring? That the problem will fix itself? All of us have a responsibility to take the necessary steps to prevent a horse from suffering. As they can’t speak, we must speak for them.”
Concern for equine welfare is at its highest. To own and care for a horse should be a privilege, not a pastime. Equine welfare education is one important key to helping overcome limited mindsets, creating a system of accountability, and ultimately preventing inhumane practice.
Reporting: Barbara Sheridan
The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (92 pages). Available in print by contacting Equine Canada.