Improving Horse Welfare at Stock-Breed Shows

Voigt determined that lack of knowledge, skewed priorities (placing winning above welfare), and nonexistent accountability of the owner for the horse's care and training were the biggest reasons for compromised stock-horse welfare.


In recent years equine advocates have placed growing attention on show horse welfare. Particularly in the United States, the horse industry is under increased pressure to address issues stemming from training negligence, owner/rider naivety or misinformation, and competitors and trainers doing whatever it takes to win.

Many proactive equine organizations have responded by instituting new rules and better educating their memberships. Further, scientists are putting research behind specific training aids such as hyperflexion and equipment such as whips.

Melissa Voigt, MS, PAS, graduate student in Purdue University's department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education, however, believes more can be done. She presented the results of recent industry interviews she conducted as part of an ongoing study at the 9th Annual International Society for Equitation Science, held July 18-20 at the University of Delaware, in Newark.

"The purpose of my study was to gain a better understanding of the welfare concerns industry professionals have of stock-type show horses (e.g., those involved with American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), American Paint Horse Association, National Reining Horse Association, 4-H, etc.) and to advocate a better means of improving show horse treatment and care," she said.

Examples of questions she asked included: What practices do these individuals observe and believe to be most detrimental to the horses' welfare, and what do they believe is the best approach to preventing compromises to these horses' welfare?

In her study Voigt interviewed 13 randomly selected industry professionals (judges, show stewards, and show managers) from the Midwest region of the United States. She collected and analyzed data pertaining to the professionals' observations, perceptions, and understanding of compromises to horse welfare. From this information Voigt identified four prominent themes:

  1. The professionals were unable to clearly define what equine welfare is. "Most, when asked, said it's hoof care, deworming, vaccination, and making sure the horse is fed," she said. "A lot of them missed the aspect of psychological needs of the horse."
  2. They observed novice trainers, novice riders, and uneducated owners most frequently compromising horse welfare. "It's important to note that many times these compromises are unintentional and due to lack of knowledge," she said.
  3. They believed mentoring relationships (specifically, pairing knowledgeable trainers who use humane techniques with new and upcoming trainers), peer intervention, and educational media/clinics were the best approaches to improving stock-horse welfare.
  4. They identified the AQHA as one of the most proactive organizations in decreasing compromises to horse welfare. "We need to examine the AQHA's policies and procedures regarding show horse welfare and see if they are things the industry as a whole can adopt," she added.

Voigt determined that lack of knowledge, skewed priorities (placing winning above welfare), and nonexistent accountability of the owner for the horse's care and training were the biggest reasons for compromised stock-horse welfare. So how does the industry attempt to improve these areas?

"It's important for reputable professionals in the industry to be proactive in helping educate the public and other people coming up through the industry," Voigt said. "Trainers need to seek out experience that will help them gain better skills for humane training practices. Owners need to take responsibility for the care of the horses at all times, whether they're sent to a trainer or not. And novice riders need to seek out educational opportunities and not just try to learn from observation of others at a distance."

Voigt suggested her research results be used to develop tools to help educate the three target audiences of novice trainers, novice riders, and uneducated owners in ways to reduce compromises to stock show horse welfare. 

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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