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This paper describes the development and pilot-testing of a horse welfare assessment protocol (HWAP). The HWAP consists of the collective measurement of numerous factors considered likely to affect a horse's welfare and is thereby designed to provide a holistic score of its welfare status and to identify potential risk factors. The draft protocol contains 47 measures: 15 animal-based, 24 resource-based and eight management-based. It was tested in the autumn at two Swedish riding schools using a total of 37 horses of varying breed, gender and age. Each assessment was repeated after 16-25 days. The results showed that 66% (31/47) of the measures had over 85% repeatability between assessments. Results indicated occurrence of behavioural issues, eg aggression and avoidance, and potential risk factors, such as inadequate management routines and feeding regimes. Using the HWAP, the assessment of up to 22 horses could be carried out in one day. Changes were proposed to the draft protocol which included incorporating an ethogram to assess the human-animal relationship and assessing bit-related injuries. We propose that the protocol might: i) provide a firm basis for the welfare monitoring of horses; ii) identify important potential risk factors; iii) guide welfare improvement and management practices for horse owners and stable managers; and iv) contribute to the development of certification schemes for horse facilities.
This study was designed to determine whether feedback from welfare assessments, using the Horse Welfare Assessment Protocol, affected actual horse welfare in 21 stables. After the first assessment, stable managers in the high feedback (HF; n = 10 stables) group were supplied with extensive information and support regarding the welfare measures and relevance of the results. The low feedback (LF; n = 11 stables) group only received the results without additional information. Upon re-assessment, six months later, no significant changes were seen in the stable overall (SO) score in either group. Significant changes occurred in individual measures; in the HF group more fresh-air inlets were open but water drinker function and ocular discharge deteriorated. In the LF group, the feeding troughs were cleaner but mane and tail condition deteriorated. Both groups had cleaner water troughs and less equipment chafing but the sum of relative air humidity (RH) and temperature (T) deteriorated. Significant decreases occurred in the stable welfare issues (SWI) score; the HF group decreased from 93.3 to 72.0 and the LF group from 113.3 to 91.3. There were also nonsignificant changes; in the HF group, 71 measures and five stables improved while 63 measures and five stables (50%) deteriorated. In the LF group, 65 measures and seven stables improved while 62 measures and four stables deteriorated. The observed improvements in both groups suggest that assessment alone (with no detailed feedback) might raise awareness but we cannot yet conclude whether or not the type of feedback affects overall horse welfare.
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