2nd July 2002

 

CALL FOR BETTER COMMUNICATION BETWEEN SCIENCE AND PUBLIC

 

Holar in Iceland played host to probably the greatest gathering in recent times of equine behaviour and welfare scientists, with expertise spanning five decades of research.

 

The workshop was sponsored by the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation and co-organised by Dr Sue McDonnell of the University of Pennsylvania and Daniel Mills of the University of Lincoln, UK.

 

The workshop was a unique opportunity for scientists from across the globe to present their work and review the current state of knowledge on all aspects of the science underpinning our understanding of the impact of management practices on the horse.

 

The workshop began with a dozen scientific poster presentations on the latest research ranging from the effect of different handling and training techniques to data on conflicting physiological measures which are often used to assess stress in the horse.

 

The first invitation session was chaired by Professor George Waring of Illinois and focussed on the foundations of equine behaviour, with presentations critically examining current theories on its domestication, behavioural genetics and development.

 

State-of-the-art reviews on equine communication and the behavioural ecology of the horse highlighted the horses’ normal adaptive range and the extent to which this is challenged in domestic situations.

 

In the second session, chaired by Professor Hans Klingel of Germany, attention focussed further on specific behaviour patterns in the horse and the relevance of this information to improving our management of horses in captivity.

 

Special emphasis was placed on the importance of diet and feeding practices, play and sexual behaviours.

 

The third session, chaired by Professor Frank Odberg of Belgium, examined management practices and the problems that commonly arise as a result. Invited presentations focused on problems of the ridden horse, training and behavioural rehabilitation in the horse and recent advances in treatment of equine stereotypies (stable vices).

 

The final session was chaired by Professor Katherine Houpt of Cornell and focussed specifically on equine welfare. Information on the scientific techniques and approaches used to assess welfare was followed by presentations on practical welfare issues faced in a range of countries from Australia to mainland Europe and from Iceland to Brazil and North America.

 

The issues facing various cultures with different socio-economic pressures and where horses are used in very different contexts were also highlighted. Practical welfare issues ranging from ethologically sound housing to training techniques and the assessment of pain were also discussed in greater depth.

 

Throughout the workshop concern was expressed at the harm that could be done from well-meaning intention, which unfortunately does not always equate with good welfare for the horse. Closer examination of many popular practices revealed there was still insufficient evidence in many cases for the beneficial claims made, and in some cases real harm might occur.

 

It was recognised that education of the public has a key role to play in bringing about a global improvement in equine welfare, but this must be based on sound science more than popular opinion. Regrettably, at present, funding opportunities into these matters is severely limited.

 

The workshop ended with participants agreeing on a consensus statement on the importance of collective responsibility for equine welfare and the relationship between scientists and the media for improved welfare:

 

“The group proposes that the welfare of the captive horses is both an individual and a societal responsibility. Research is required into both the fundamental and applied aspects of equine behaviour to facilitate the development and dissemination of soundly based scientific knowledge to help provide optimal welfare in practice. In order to achieve this, it is important that good research is widely communicated and not misrepresented in public interpretations of the work.”

 

As a result of the workshop a new authoritative text on the development and management of horse behaviour will be produced next year by Cambridge University Press. In the meantime readers may wish to access abstracts from the conference at:

http://www2.vet.upenn.edu/labs/equinebehavior/hvnwkshp/hv02/hvwk6-02.htm

 

- - - - - - - -

 

For further details please contact:

Daniel Mills BVSc MRCVS

Principal Lecturer in Behavioural Studies & Animal Welfare

Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare Group

Department of Biological Sciences

University of Lincoln

Riseholme Park

Lincoln LN2 2LG

UK

Tel 44(0)1522 522252

e-mail: dmills@dmu.ac.uk

 

or the university press office on 44 (0) 1522 886042