The most powerful path to good welfare outcomes for all equines is in preventative action and education. The tricky thing about prevention though, is that when it’s done well, hardly anyone will even notice it happening. What does it look like? Knowledgeable, experienced horse people, strong supportive communities and individuals providing responsible, good quality horse care.
Question: What is the one key thing all horse people can do to help improve the welfare of Australian equines?
Answer: Become an experienced and knowledgeable horse person with a good eye for horse health and welfare.
If you’re an experienced and knowledgeable horse person, you can:
- Look after your own equines very well, with their health and welfare your utmost priority in all activities
- Teach people less experienced than yourself, both by setting a good example and by sharing what you know
- Help those in need, by learning to spot when things are not going well before they spiral out of control
- Learn to recognise when you are personally out of your depth or struggling, so that you can seek assistance early, before things go downhill
Strong, Supportive Horse CommunitiesHorse communities come in all shapes and sizes – Pony clubs, breed societies, online forums, small towns, neighbourhoods, adult riding groups, friendship groups, families, etc, can work together to provide positive encouragement for people to learn about good quality horse care and welfare. These same communities can also act as a safety net, helping out when needed.
Clubs and associations nowadays often have an appointed equine welfare officer. Some have even signed up to the national Horse Welfare Protocol. Is your club a signatory?
- Horse Welfare Protocol – Information on the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy website
- The Australian Horse Welfare & Well-being Toolkit for Event Organisers – from the Australian Horse Industry Council and Australian Animal Welfare Strategy
- Horse Welfare Officers – Information from Horse SA
Examples of less formal ways that people in strong horse communities are helping out all the time:
- The coach or parent at a pony club who helps the new riders each year that turn up with “unsuitable” mounts
- The breed society members who rally around to help find good homes for the horses of a breeder who has fallen ill
- The experienced horse person who knows a lot of people and uses their networks to find good homes for horses in need
- The people who spend their online time helping out people they’ve never even met, by kindly, knowledgeably and professionally answering their horse questions
- The coach or official who calmly stands their ground when a “pushy parent” wants their child to compete even though their pony is lame
There are an awful lot of quiet achievers out there achieving small victories for horses, ponies, donkeys and other equines every day. If you know someone like this, why not let them know they are appreciated. 🙂
Programs supporting and promoting “at risk” breeds
Some types of horses have unfortunately got a reputation for turning up more often than others in unfortunate circumstances or headed for slaughter. The three main groups are presently brumbies, thoroughbreds and standardbreds.
We have pages focusing on each of these major groups, with links to organisations retraining and promoting them among the general horse community:
How does reporting neglect help with prevention?
- A visit from an inspector may give someone improved knowledge or perhaps a “wake up call” that will benefit their current and future horses.
- Early intervention may lead to earlier surrendering or seizing of horses for rehabilitation and rehoming, preventing further suffering.
Note again that prevention is rarely headline grabbing. Cases where horses rapidly improved and were never neglected again, and cases where the owner surrendered their horse immediately are not the sort of stories that “go viral” or get a lot of newspaper coverage. Reporting is a complex issue, read more on the “report” page.
Every coach can play a role in improving the welfare of horses by helping every horse rider/handler, whether beginner or experienced, to treat every horse with respect and make their care and welfare their highest priority in all activities.
For more information see our page “Horse Care and Welfare Education“.
Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn, and it is sometimes useful to consider “what would happen if…?” to decrease the chances of your horse/s ending up in needy circumstances.
- Financial responsibility – Horses are not cheap, and if things go wrong the expense can escalate rapidly. Good habits such as planning a budget (and sticking to it), and saving for a rainy day (or vet bill) can make a big difference when things get chaotic.
- Support network – Who will care for your horses if you fall ill or are injured? A friend? Family? A neighbour? Engaging with horse communities, as outlined above, can provide a vital safety net. Are you isolated from other horse people? Maybe it’s time to reconnect, or perhaps seek out a supportive community of like-minded people. Being helpful and supportive yourself is one of the best ways to do this.
- What happens to your horses if you should sadly pass away? Have you made provisions in your will? Is there a person or charity group you trust to rehome them? Sadly some horses of deceased estates end up neglected or taken to a horse sale or knackery simply because no-one involved knows what to do with them.
- Difficult decisions – Sometimes the emotional connection a person feels for a horse causes them to make decisions at odds with the best interests of that horse’s welfare. Examples include holding on until a horse has begun to suffer neglect before realising that it would be best to find a new home. Or the difficult decision to euthanise, where the owner finds it hard to let go, perhaps clinging to a hope of a miracle cure, or fooling themselves into thinking it’s “not that bad”. These are very difficult decisions, as emotions can cloud judgement, and it is often easier to see from the outside than when going through it yourself.
- Emergency planning – A plan can make all the difference. Find out more on the “Floods, Fires and other Emergencies” and “Equine Emergency Rescue” pages
- Asking for help – Whether you are a novice or have many decades of experience, admitting you need help can be hard. Please find the courage within yourself to approach someone you trust. It is part of being a responsible horse person.
If you choose to breed horses, have a read of the “Code of a Responsible Breeder” put together by members of the Responsible Horse Breeders Facebook Group. Breeders are the source of wanted and unwanted horses, of foals that are given the best chance or no chance at 30 years of life. Anyone choosing to breed a foal (or who buys a mare in foal) should consider the issues raised in that well thought out “code”.
This page is a work in progress, if you have a suggestion for content we should add here please let us know!