The welfare of recreational horses in Victoria: the occurrence of and factors associated with horse welfare

2017-02-06T05:49:29Z (GMT) by Hemsworth, Lauren Margaret
The welfare of recreational horses in Victoria, Australia has become an increasingly important issue, as evident by their high representation in welfare investigations. A substantial proportion of horse welfare problems appear due to recreational horse owner mismanagement, as a result of ignorance rather than intentional abuse. According to the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB), a recreational horse owner’s attitudes towards horse ownership are likely to influence their behaviour in terms of the implementation of horse husbandry and management practices. Subsequently, these recreational horse owner husbandry and management behaviours may impact on the welfare of the horse. This study examined recreational horse ownership in Victoria and investigated the relationships between horse owner attributes and horse welfare outcomes. The results of a random telephone survey reported the observed incidence of horse ownership to be 3.5%, suggesting that as many as 176,000 people in Victoria may own recreational horses. Furthermore, on average each recreational horse owner owned four horses, which indicates there could potentially be in excess of 600,000 recreational horses in Victoria. Horse owners typically provided their horses with their daily primary care. Consequently, it was the horse owner who was responsible for the welfare of these horses. Horse owners largely reported the appropriate performance of horse husbandry and management practices and a low incidence of horse injury and illness. However, on average, horse owners spent less than 30 minutes per day interacting with their horses. Furthermore, at least one quarter of horse owners who provided the daily primary care, failed to interact with their horses on a daily basis. These findings suggest that a limited degree of human-horse interaction rather than the inappropriate performance of other horse husbandry and management practices could potentially be the primary source of Victorian horse owner mismanagement. The observation-based results of on-site inspections provided evidence of relationships between horse owner attributes and horse welfare outcomes. The appropriate performance of horse husbandry and management behaviour by horse owners was associated with positive horse welfare outcomes. Furthermore, a horse owner’s appropriate performance of horse husbandry and management behaviour was predicted by favourable beliefs, which underlie horse owner attitudes towards horse husbandry and management behaviour. In addition, knowledge-based background factors appeared to influence horse owner beliefs about horse owner husbandry and management behaviour. These findings are in accordance with the literature and the TPB (Ajzen, 1985), and indicate the potential to predict a horse owner’s husbandry and management behaviour from their attitude towards the behaviour in question. In addition, a qualitative investigation identified horse owner opinions on the key issues associated with recreational horse ownership in Victoria. Consequently, the results from the three components of the study demonstrate the opportunity to manipulate the human-horse relationship via targeted education and training programs in order to potentially both improve the husbandry and management behaviour of recreational horse owners and reduce the incidence of poor welfare in recreational horses. Further research is, however, required to not only demonstrate the sequential nature of the human-horse relationship and provide evidence of causal relationships, but to determine the effectiveness of education and training programs in improving the welfare of recreational horses. The results reported in this thesis provide what is believed to be the first comprehensive account of recreational horse ownership. It offers a valuable insight into the human-horse relationship and its possible influence on recreational horse owner behaviour and horse welfare. Horse owners provide the primary care for their horses and consequently are the major determinants of the welfare of these horses. Although the results of this study are particularly relevant to Victoria, they also should be highly relevant to recreational horse ownership elsewhere. As in Australia, these results have implications for recreational horse welfare in any recreational horse population where recreational horse owners provide the primary care for their horses.