As they say, people are responsible for what they have tamed. It equally refers to all those animals that have been domesticated by humans over many years. As for horses, they play an essential role in modern society because they are used in agriculture, sport, and even leisure activities. However, the high popularity of these animals does not mean that they live without any problems. According to Henderson (2018), while horses do not experience direct abuse, their seemingly favorable living conditions result in psychological and physiological suffering for today’s sport horses.
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Owners of these animals try to do their best to provide their livestock with necessary conditions, but this approach fails to generate some benefits. In her chapter “Pampered Prisoners: Meeting the Ethological Needs of the Modern Sport Horse to Enhanced Equine Welfare,” Henderson (2018) argues that an ideal living environment is harmful to horses. On the one hand, the researcher mentions that these animals have evolved some adaptations that do not serve a useful purpose when horses are bred out of their natural environment. These adaptations include “flight response, ability to form affiliative bonds, and ability to exist on poor quality forage” (Henderson, 2018, p. 167).
When the equines are deprived of each of them, it inevitably leads to adverse consequences because the absence of these behaviors does not motivate horses to develop. For example, the fact that captivated horses are usually provided with a sufficient amount of oats, grain, and others does not allow them to graze and promote their healthy gut functioning. Furthermore, the situation above results in stereotypies that are repetitive behaviors that tend to indicate a worsened equine wellbeing.
On the other hand, Henderson (2018) stipulates that captivated horses face crucial challenges in the artificial environment. They are represented by confinement, social isolation, and controlled diets (Henderson, 2018). These issues are essential for horses’ wellbeing, and it is necessary to identify the impact of each of them. Firstly, modern sport horses are forced to live within limited areas where they cannot move freely, which is stressful for them.
Secondly, it is a typical case when horse owners isolate some of their animals to prevent them from copying one another. While there is no proved evidence that horses tend to copy behaviors of others, the isolation is not useful for equine welfare. Finally, even though people tend to provide their horses with the best and limited diet, it is not profitable for the animals since they are deprived of essential nutrients that they could get while grazing.
In the chapter, the author states that the current living conditions of sport horses are harmful to them, which is supported by a few studies. For example, Ikinger, Spiller, and Kayser (2016) stipulate that many factors influence sport horses’ welfare. Among them, balanced feeding is considered crucial because it provides the animals with the elements and nutrients that are necessary for their wellbeing.
In addition to that, Bartolomé and Cockram (2016) indicate that sport horses can decently perform when they are bred in an adequate environment. When a horse starts experiencing some problems, stress emerges, which is harmful for its psychological and physiological health. Thus, unnatural living conditions produce many adverse consequences for the horses, and it is necessary to make the challenges above meet the required adaptations to improve the present situation.
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This information means that it is necessary to take specific steps to increase equine welfare. Industry professionals and owners bear the primary responsibility of taking care of their subordinates. Thus, it is reasonable to draw attention and reconsider horses’ feeding peculiarities. As a rule, those horses that regularly participate in sporting activities should be provided with sufficient protein concentrates. However, it is proved that the industry standard of feeding animals with the best forage is not useful for them (Henderson, 2018). That is why it is reasonable to decrease the quality of forage and increase its quantity. In this case, the horses will gain a required amount of fiber and other nutrients without the danger of getting obese. This advice indicates that it is possible to achieve successful results here by controlling what they consume.
In addition to that, one can improve the horses’ welfare by influencing their relationships with other animals. It has already been mentioned that isolation has harmful consequences, and it is necessary to avoid this strategy. On the contrary, it is useful to provide equines with relative freedom, and group or paired turn-out seems to be a suitable option here. Even though it is believed that such decisions make the animals subject to aggression and possible injuries, the real state of affairs is different. While in a natural herd, horses establish evident hierarchical systems where confrontations are not typical.
Even if an act of aggression occurs, these animals tend to forget them fast. Furthermore, it is possible to achieve some benefits when horses can touch one another because tactile contacts are essential for them. One should state that these contacts can also be made while in stable boxes with the help of grilled windows, half walls, and others.
Introducing the recommendations above can bring challenges to some stereotypes that are present in the equine industry. It seems that horse owners will be against any innovations. It relates to the fact that they have accustomed to run their business in a particular manner, and any changes result in problems for them. Thus, the owners are representatives of the most stereotypic behavior in the industry. In addition to that, taking efforts to improve the horses’ welfare will imply a corresponding financial burden for the owners. However, when they invest their money in the wellbeing of the animals, it will generate appropriate benefits in the future because they will not need to address the horses’ psychological and physiological issues.
Once people decide to tame an animal, they should be fully responsible for it, which refers to taking care of the animal’s health, both physical and mental. When it comes to horses, people actively use them in various spheres, and it is necessary to draw attention to their wellbeing. It has been mentioned that sport horses are forced to live in artificial conditions that are harmful to their welfare and performance because life in captivity creates challenges that do not meet their evolutionary adaptations. This information means that people should take appropriate measures to make the life of equines better.
These steps include reconsidering diets, providing horses with more freedom, and encouraging them to touch one another. Even though these recommendations imply a financial burden for horse owners, they are useful since they will improve the horses’ welfare.
Bartolomé, E., & Cockram, M. S. (2016). Potential effects of stress on the performance of sport horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 40, 84-93.
Henderson, A. J. Z. (2018). Pampered prisoners: Meeting the ethological needs of the modern sport horse to enhanced equine welfare. In J. Young & N. Carr (Eds.), Domestic animals, humans, and leisure: Rights, welfare, and wellbeing (pp. 165-189). London, England: Routledge.
Ikinger, C., Spiller, A., & Kayser, M. (2016). Factors influencing the attitude of equestrians towards sport horse welfare. Animal Welfare, 25(4), 411-422.