Health Of Pony Club Horses

Each year, hundreds of thousands of research dollars go toward investigating ways to keep money-earning, highly competitive athletic horses physically sound and at their peak performance. One researcher in Australia has chosen a different type of equine hero as her focus--the Pony Club horse.

Petra Buckley, PhD, is a lecturer in the School of Agriculture at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Australia. Buckley is the principal investigator in a three-part study funded by the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC), and she plans to examine the health and performance of Pony Club horses, which have remained unstudied despite their significant contribution to the Australian equine industry. There are more than 900 active Pony Clubs in Australia, with more than 60,000 riding members. Estimates of horse numbers involved exceed 80,000.

The completed first part of the study explored the perceptions of horse health and performance among Pony Club members. Buckley aimed to gain an understanding of issues relating to horse health and performance that are important to the Pony Club community.

"Interviews with Pony Club members have been completed and have provided valuable insights into health and performance issues," said Buckley. These issues include nutrition, dental care, foot care, deworming, colic, laminitis, sore backs, horse behavior, and skin disease.

"Parents and riders wanted to know more about feeding and how the horse's body functioned. Owners had dramatic memories of colic and laminitis, and wanted to avoid these diseases at all costs," Buckley reports. She found out that Aussie Pony Club families often look to their farrier for advice, and that many use chiropractors for their horses' backs.

Outcomes from the first study will help Buckley frame the topics for the epidemiological second part of the study. This will investigate a group of Pony Club horses to more clearly understand how they are managed day to day, including feeding, disease occurrence, behavior, and the level of health care provided (with special emphasis on laminitis). The final phase will work with Pony clubs to establish extension programs to remedy these problems.

"It is especially important that the recommendations are effective and easy to implement," said Buckley, "and that they reach the wider population of Pony Club horse owners."

Phases two and three are under way in Buckley's study. There are a number of hypotheses induced by the first part of the study. According to Buckley, Pony Club owners learn by trial and error, the practitioner is seen as an animal disease expert rather than an animal health expert, and vets have a minimal effect on the health and performance of Pony Club horses. "But they could potentially have a large influence," she added.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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