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Your Contribution Can Improve Horse Welfare!

March 2019 by Kate Fenner
Kate is the equitation scientist, PhD candidate, equestrian coach (EA and BHS) and horse trainer (John and Josh Lyons Certified Trainer) who founded Kandoo Equine to support owners as they learn how to train their own horses. Kate has developed a series of invaluable, ethical and easy to follow guides for horses and riders of all levels.

Did you know that your simple contribution can improve horse welfare on a global scale?

You don’t need to dig too deep to discover that horse welfare lags behind other domestic animals. Imagine strapping a dog’s mouth shut so tight it could barely swallow or tying its tongue to its lower jaw with an elastic band?

The public would be outraged, and you would probably be charged with cruelty. However, these are common, everyday occurrences in equestrian sports.

Why is this? Is it because horses were work animals in such recent history and dogs have, on the whole, been mostly companion animals? Is it because dogs whine, yelp and howl, while horses are much less vocal? These may be contributing factors, but I wonder if the reasons are less obvious than that?

A few years ago, I was involved in a research project investigating the effects of noseband tightness on the behaviour and physiology of horses.

It is very common to hear people saying that ‘my horse doesn’t mind/has habituated to’ the tight noseband so we wanted to find out more about the horse’s experience of wearing a tight noseband for the first time.

As I filmed (for the later analysis of behaviour) I was able to observe the horses and honestly could not see any changes, other than the horses appeared slightly quieter/more still when the noseband was tight.

However, I was shocked to see the heart rate results when they were later analyzed. Significant increases in heart rate where seen when the nosebands were at their tightest and the behavioural changes included significant decreases in licking and chewing and an absence of swallowing in some horses when the noseband was tight (you can access the published article here).

How would a dog behave in similar circumstances? I would imagine the dog would put all its energy into removing the restrictive band by pawing at it or rubbing against the nearest surface. I also think the dog would vocalize its distress with whining, growling or crying.

Horses, being prey animals, evolved to hide their distress – it’s an important survival technique. In contrast, for dogs as predators, this is not important or beneficial to their survival.

Given this, it is our responsibility to do all that we can to ensure the best possible welfare outcomes for our horses and to achieve this we need to know how our training and management techniques influence behaviour.

We all want a relaxed, safe and above all happy, equine partner whether we are riding or simply handling the horse on the ground but knowing how to achieve these outcomes can be baffling. There are many, often conflicting methods and theories available to us but very little hard data on how these factors effect behaviour over time. And of course, it’s often difficult to see changes in behaviour when we handle a horse on a regular basis, making assessing the effects of such changes challenging.

This is where E-BARQ comes in.

The E-BARQ questionnaire provides owners with a comprehensive assessment of their horses’ behaviour every six months.

Early users have reported that simply completing the questionnaire has made them much more aware of their horses behaviour and led them to address those areas that require it.

Now, with the addition of some exciting and innovative features, the E-BARQ will provide owners with tools to track and assess their training progress and review behavioural changes over time.

The three main elements of the E-BARQ are:

The E-BARQ six-monthly questionnaire dives deep into your horses’ training, management and behaviour. Regardless of breed and whether your horse is ridden, non-ridden, a companion animal or retired to the field, you will be directed to the relevant question set.

On completion of the E-BARQ, you will receive a Share-&-Compare graph. This will show you how your particular horse compares to the population in the following 14 categories:

  • Trainability
  • Rideability
  • Boldness
  • Handling compliance
  • Working compliance
  • Easy to stop
  • Forward going
  • Human social confidence
  • Non-human social confidence
  • Novel object confidence
  • Touch sensitivity
  • Easy to load
  • Independence
  • Repetitive behaviours

Finally, you need some way of assessing and tracking your horse’s progress with changes in training, management and behaviour and horseslogbook provides this for you.

Not only can you enter training or handling sessions as frequently as you like, but you can also make notes and set reminders for your important dates such as vaccinations, worming schedules, farrier visits, lessons or any other important event.

But the useful features don’t stop here. Horseslogbook also allows you to share your information with anyone you choose. This might be your veterinarian.

Imagine if your horse has had an injury and your vet suggested you give regular progress updates– simply share your hlb link and your vet will be able to access your entries. You may wish to share the information with your trainer or coach and that way they could monitor your progress between your face-to-face meetings. You are able to share your hlb access with anyone by simply entering their email address, and their access can be revoked by removing that address from your list at any time.

On registering to become an E-BARQ contributor, you will get a personalized dashboard. Here you will find your horses’ profile, where you can upload photos and add more horses (an unlimited number), complete your own profile, click through to take your regular (six-monthly) E-BARQs, store your Share-&-Compare graphs and see your horses’ changes over time as well as access your hlb.

The Horselogbook is an app that works on iOS and Android devices and can be downloaded as soon as your initial E-BARQ has been completed.

How does your involvement with the E-BARQ project benefit horse welfare?

You know your horse better than anyone else; you are the ultimate expert on your horse’s behaviour which is why your observations are so important to equine scientists working to improve horse welfare.

By completing regular E-BARQ questionnaires, we can get a detailed picture of how changes in training and management effect behaviour. Let’s say you move area, and your horse goes from being in a paddock 24/7 to being stabled at night, which might also involve some dietary changes. Perhaps you decide to change your riding discipline, ride more or less frequently or start to take your horse away to events. You may introduce a new rider to your horse or any other of a possible myriad of changes.

Over time, these changes will allow scientists to identify patterns and even find causal relationships between the reported changes and resulting behaviours.

Of course, privacy is important and the data you enter into your E-BARQ and hlb is ‘non-identifiable’. This means that, behind the scenes, you cannot be identified. The information the scientists are interested in rests in the overall picture.

For example, when a five-year-old, unraced, Thoroughbred mare changes riding discipline from trail riding to dressage, what behavioural changes, if any, result? Your data can be compared to other unraced Thoroughbreds, other five-year-olds and other horses changing riding disciplines.

Further, your horse’s data are securely stored (using its unique E-BARQ number) so that those behavioural changes can be assessed over time (and this will be reflected in your Share-&-Compare graph each six months).

I know that many of us would love to do more to improve horse welfare but find it difficult to know how to get involved or find the time to do so. The E-BARQ provides you with the perfect opportunity to contribute and in return access these useful feedback and tracking tools to help you reach your horse training, riding and handling goals.

If you own, lease or regularly ride or care for a horse then you are qualified to become an E-BARQ contributor. To find out more and register your horse(s) as soon as the doors open (28th April) please visit: https://www.kandooequine.com/e-barq. By registering here, you will be sent an email on April 28th with your registration link.

E-BARQ has been many years in development and benefited from the input of experts around the world.
To find out more about the development of E-BARQ, please click here.

As I write this article, I am about to head out to India to spend a month working with the Indian Protection for Animals and Nature (IPAN) group to begin the establishment a training program for the street horses of India.
This will be the first of, I hope, many trips and if you would like to hear more about it and follow along, go to my blog (https://www.kandooequine.com/blog).