Equine Guelph Launches 'Full-Circle Responsibility'

Equine Guelph Launches 'Full-Circle Responsibility'

“What about the neighbour down the street who has fallen on hard times and is unable to afford sufficient hay to feed his horses?” Ecker asks. "All of us have a responsibility to take the necessary steps to prevent a horse from suffering."

Photo: Photos.com

The plight of the unwanted or neglected horse is a growing welfare issue in North America. Seldom does a week go by without a publicized horse welfare issue in some form of neglect, abuse, or abandonment. With an aim to provide a greater foundation of knowledge regarding the welfare of the horse, this year Equine Guelph (the horse owner and caregiver's center at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada) has launched its latest awareness campaign, "Full-Circle-Responsibility."

Through this educational initiative, Equine Guelph’s goal is to assist horse owners to develop the necessary tools and skills to make sound management decisions based on scientific research in order to support the well-being of the horse.

With the current economic climate and changes in the racing sector in Ontario, many in the horse industry have been forced to look for ways to live more frugally. Unfortunately in many cases, it’s the horse that suffers.

“The majority of horse owners and riders have a strong attachment to their horses, and would not purposely go out of their way to neglect a horse,” says Gayle Ecker, director of Equine Guelph. “But proper equine welfare goes far beyond providing the basics of food and water. It’s about how the horse is managing with the conditions in which it lives. It’s about taking full responsibility for horse ownership right up until the end.”

What is Equine Welfare?

The simple definition of welfare, or “quality of life,” can at times be unclear, as this term can mean different things to different people. This is especially true of equine welfare, where breeds vary greatly in their needs. Nonetheless, everyone can agree that providing good welfare to horses should be based on both physical and mental health.

In the past, society normally regarded equine welfare only as it relates to the animal’s physiology and its environment, such as feeding and shelter. But over the past 15 years, the science of animal welfare has made huge developments in recognizing their needs by expanding the concept of welfare and management issues of the horse to include also their well-being and related tolerable threshold of pain, suffering, or neglect.

What’s Best for the Horse?

Just last year, Equine Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council came together to provide horse owners with updated guidelines for general equine management with the release of Canada's new "Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines." 

“The code was developed for both the professional and the individual owner for the health and welfare of horses,” says Jack de Wit, director with the Equine Canada Board of Directors and chair of the Code Development Committee.

The code was established to develop and enforce guidelines for minimum standards for horse welfare, including proper nutrition, appropriate shelter, disease prevention and treatment, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia. Its development was led by an 18-person committee made up of equine owners, caregivers, animal welfare and enforcement representatives, researchers, veterinarians, and government representatives. A five-person scientific committee, which included researchers with expertise in equine behavior, health, and welfare, also aided in its concept.

Printed copies of the 92-page "Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines" are available by contacting Equine Canada; the code can also be viewed or downloaded at www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/equine.

Meanwhile in Ontario, a new organization was formed to contribute to improvements in farm animal care and welfare. Established in January 2012, Farm & Food Care is the first coalition of its type in Canada and resulted from the amalgamation of the Ontario Farm Animal Council and Agricultural Groups Concerned about Resources and Environment in order to bring awareness, appreciation, and information to farmers to help ensure that farm animals are raised in a responsible manner.

“While we do not specifically represent horses at Farm & Food Care, there are many parallels that exist between farm animals,” said Kristen Kelderman, farm animal care coordinator of Farm & Food Care Ontario, based in Guelph. “Regardless of whether you are taking care of a cow, horse, pig, or chicken, good farm animal welfare should be the same across all species.”

Farm & Food Care offers a farm animal care helpline to assist farmers with management-type issues, but is not meant for legitimate abuse or cases where laws have been broken.

“We do not take horse (abuse) calls, because we do not have this agreement on the horse side,” states Kelderman. “When people do call our office about horses, we recommend that they call the OSPCA (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) directly. The helpline does not have the mandate or resources to respond to the thousands of calls that the OSPCA does, but is simply another tool for people to use when they are concerned for an animal’s welfare.”

Help Prevent Welfare Issues

Equine welfare is a human responsibility and should extend beyond our farm gates, says Ecker.

“While your horses are being properly cared for, what about the neighbor down the street who has fallen on hard times and is unable to afford sufficient hay to feed his horses?” she asks. “Do we turn a blind eye and hope they’ll be alright until the spring? That the problem will fix itself? All of us have a responsibility to take the necessary steps to prevent a horse from suffering. As they can’t speak, we must speak for them.”

To own and care for a horse should be a privilege, not a pastime. Equine welfare education is one important key to helping overcome limited mindsets, creating a system of accountably, and ultimately preventing inhumane practice.

In partnership with Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Equine Guelph is developing a "Full-Circle-Responsibility" equine welfare educational initiative which stands to benefit the welfare of horses in both the racing and non-racing industries.

Development of equine welfare training tools is being funded in part through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of Growing Forward 2 in Ontario. Other partners include Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, Equine Canada, Farm & Food Care Ontario, Greenhawk Harness & Equestrian Supplies, Omega Alpha Equine, Ontario Equestrian Federation, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Ontario Racing Commission, Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Standardbred Canada.

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