Assessing Equine Quality of Life

A recently published report on equine Quality of Life (QoL) was supported by World Horse Welfare.

Posted on 25/01/2022

Assessing Equine Quality of Life

The project lays the foundation for effective measurement of this difficult to assess issue and should positively influence future horse welfare. How to assess an equine’s quality of life is a highly debated topic yet lacks scientific agreement on how it’s best carried out.

During 2021, students from a number of institutions throughout the UK took part in an Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence (AESE) project; through the Quality of Life Virtual Case Study.

The students from Hartpury University, University Centre Askham Bryan and University Centre Sparsholt, used a combination of literature reviews, surveys and interviews to tackle a number of questions in order to understand how equine QoL was perceived, and how it could be measured in various situations.

The project was supported by World Horse Welfare in partnership with The Horse Trust.

Sam Chubbock, Head of UK Support at World Horse Welfare said:

It is great that World Horse Welfare has been able to support students during the difficulties posed by Covid, allowing them to continue to learn whilst setting a baseline for where the horse world is on measuring QoL.”

Jan Rogers from The Horse Trust said:

“Raising awareness of QoL amongst students will ensure that it is always taken into account when assessing horses and ponies – from elite sport horses through to pleasure and companion animals – and will help inform decisions on day-to-day management.”

Equine QoL has traditionally only been considered at key points in a horse’s life – most notably when end of life decisions need to be made – but the study concluded that QoL should be considered throughout all stages of the horse’s life. When an assessment of QoL has been carried out it has tended to focus solely on negative factors and one important output from this study is that both positive and negative experiences – a quality of life continuum – need to be taken into account.

Dr Georgina Crossman of Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence said:

The students of today are the owners and carers of horses and ponies of tomorrow. Recognising the Quality of Life Continuum and that any assessment tool will need to be collaboratively developed between researchers and those dealing with horses in real life is a big step towards producing a usable QoL measure that will, ultimately, improve horse welfare.”

One element of the study covered a review of existing QoL models which highlighted that most do not consider the horse’s mental health and that in a real-world situation most would be difficult to apply consistently, accurately or frequently. 

Any QoL assessment tool will need to be both effective and practical in real life for all those caring for horses, but that tool will support horse owners and carers and can be powerful in analysing the horse’s response to management techniques, training and even response to treatment when injured or ill.

At the end of the project the students presented their findings to a panel of representatives from the equine sector, including World Horse Welfare and The Horse Trust, and their final report will feed into future research and development of a QoL assessment tool.

Find out more about AESE here or read the summary report here.

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