Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Olympic athletes, professional hockey players and professional horsemen alike feel the pressure to win. Many call it greed, but sometimes it’s fueled by the desperate attempt to make a living. In the show ring or the race track, people hire successful trainers. Unfortunately some set aside empathy to use the horse as a tool for their sport.

But what defines abuse varies among the public. How a horse experiences pain or anxiety as a prey and herd animal is different from a human. He does not have human logic or motives or the ability to think in the abstract. In many cases, what wouldn’t stress a human, stresses a horse and what a human considers painful is merely uncomfortable to the horse.

I teach Equine Behaviour as part of a University of Guelph course. One thing I love about teaching this course is I get to review all sorts of studies which help sort through the fact and fiction of horse learning. We look at how various trailering, training, cribbing intervention and weaning methods, affect a horse’s anxiety, measured by heart rate and cortisol levels. It’s been an eye opener to learn that some things are more stressful to a horse than we think, while others are less.

"Our views on animal welfare are conditioned by our personal knowledge base and life experiences," explainedTom Lenz, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT, in his keynote speech, entitled "Horse Welfare Wars: When Emotion and Fact Collide," at the AAEP Convention… "In a perfect world, all welfare solutions would be based on science, such as (the horses') health and biological function (as opposed to emotion). In reality, though, science is often ignored if society believes something is wrong." Lenz adds that he believes emotions often take over because society views animal welfare as a moral issue rather than a scientific issue, and they tend to be quick to blame when someone is caring for animals differently than they would.

Let’s continue to speak up against unsavoury training practices, but put on our thinking caps and check the facts before we label a certain practice as abuse.

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