The horse industry in the United States is not the only one dealing with an equine welfare problem. Some European countries are also facing challenges in assuring all horses have a good quality of life, according to Joe Collins, MVB, PhD, MRCVS, CertEP, CertVR, who recently conducted his PhD study at University College Dublin's Veterinary Sciences Center.

Collins discussed equine welfare in Europe during a presentation at the 2010 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 4-8, 2010, in Baltimore, Md. Collins traveled around the island of Ireland to analyze and expose the equine welfare situation in those areas.

Collins and his colleagues visited specific locations where poor equine welfare was evident, including horse fairs and sale venues, horse farms and horse dealer premises, animal sanctuaries and rescue centers, and horse competition events. As in the United States, some horses were found to be malnourished, living in less-than-ideal conditions, or even dead.

Additionally, Collins conducted an in-depth study of the number of horses processed and also the disposal of horses. Collins said that the recorded number of horses slaughtered in Ireland for human consumption abroad each year has been on the rise: 614 were slaughtered in 2005; 822 in 2006; 1,486 in 2007; 2,002 in 2008; and 3,163 in 2009. He added that it is unclear how many horses are exported to Great Britain for processing in government-approved plants there, as there is essentially free movement of horses between the two countries. Currently, five government-approved processing plants are open in Ireland, with a sixth scheduled to open in mid-2011, Collins said.

In addition to observing the welfare situation in Ireland, Collins and his team conducted a survey of horse owners about the current state of equine welfare in their region. He said that respondents suggested additional regulation and enforcement was the best way to address poor equine welfare. He explained that respondents said that a "lack of awareness, or the desire not to know (about the current welfare situation in their region)," was a recurring trend that likely adds to the equine welfare crisis.

Collins said that "there was a consensus among industry players in Ireland that welfare standards for horses ... should be raised, but there was little agreement on how and whether that could be achieved." He added that while work is ongoing to educate owners about responsible horse keeping, veterinarians must step up and use their voice to advocate for improved standards of equine welfare.

"The fundamental issue underpinning all horse health and welfare issues was the need to adopt and enforce a robust system of horse identification, ensuring that owners are legally linked to the horses in their care," Collins said.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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