Working For Welfare

Animal welfare and animal rights are not the same; neither are the people who support each cause. Animal welfare means horse people making sure horses are kept and utilized in a humane and safe manner, with consideration given to the animals' health and well-being, both mentally and physically. Animal rights, on the other hand, means that horses have the same rights as you and me. Sorry, but I can't take that road.

Animal rights activists say they want horses to live a "natural" life. Okay, show me a "natural" situation where there is not a hierarchy. Point out any animal in the wild that doesn't have a predator/prey community with which to contend. There are "laws" in Nature, and there are "laws" in urban settings to make sure people control, contain, and manage the animals they keep for the good of the "urban" community.

We all should be working to see to the welfare of our own horses, and the horses within the scope of our influence (which is broader than you might imagine). When the topics of PMU mares, transporting horses to slaughter, use/abuse of horses in competition, or catastrophic injuries in athletic horses are raised, we should point with pride to the advances being made in helping horses be healthier, and happier, in their jobs.

With this in mind, it excites me to tell you that next month we will have new information in a breaking article on use of anesthesia in horses which are injured at the peak of athletic competition.

This is a breakthrough because as many of you know, an excited or injured horse is a difficult animal to control. If the injured animal has been competing, and is down and needs to be moved to a different location for more intensive medical care, then the problem is compounded.

How can you anesthetize the horse so it is not in pain from injury, can be moved without causing further harm, and be recovered after anesthesia without suffering after-effects of the sedation at the peak of exercise?

Several industries stepped up with research funds in hopes of getting answers to those questions. The American Quarter Horse Association funded research at Washington State University, and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation backed work at The Ohio State University.

The initial word out of Washington State is exciting. It looks like researchers there have found a combination of drugs that can be given in small amounts (quick to administer) to a horse at exercise, allowing the horse to be transported and recovered without undue problem. Watch for the details in the July issue of The Horse.

Back To The Issue

The Horse has received many letters concerning the March article on PMU ranching, most of which were in agreement with the use of equines in this manner as long as they were well-managed and content. There were a few letters, however, that just didn't make sense.

A recent letter was from a self-described "vet tech," who said she was "shocked" about PMU ranching, that "no animal should be subjected to this type of treatment," and that "PMU ranchers should be ashamed to call themselves horse people." She went on to say that, "As a woman, I would never purchase anything that has been tested on animals or taken from an animal."

That really makes me curious. As a vet tech, has she never given a botulism vaccine to a horse? Or given plasma or a blood transfusion to a critical foal? Any drug which is approved for use in an animal has been tested on an animal at some point. The same applies for many human drugs. Would she deny insulin (usually animal-derived) to a diabetic?

The point is, there are advances being made every day in the area of horse health. Research is a slow process, but it is a process that pays off in the long run for horses, and the people who enjoy them.

That is another reason we are proud to be able to contribute to research looking at abnormalities of bone in young horses and how those abnormalities translate into problems for competitive horses (see Up Front news item, page 13).

Industry Pride

Working together for the benefit of all horses is important, and the Horse Industry Alliance is trying hard to accomplish that mission. HIA is made up of individuals from all walks of the equine world, including associations, breed registries, retailers, manufacturers, and individual horse owners. In their plan to increase the general public's participation with horses and horse sports, their first phase was market research, which showed that one in three households in the United States wants to own or ride a horse. That's pretty incredible. Other numbers from that research showed that 2.2% of American households currently own horses, and 7.9% are current riders.

There were 3.2% who used to own a horse, and of those, 2.6% want to own a horse again. Twelve percent used to ride, and of those, nearly 3% want to ride again. Of those surveyed, nearly 5% are interested in owning a horse, and 13.3% are interested in riding a horse.

"If we take advantage of the tremendous opportunity, it isn't out of the question to double the size of our $25.3-billion industry," said Don Treadway, HIA vice chair and senior director of marketing for the American Quarter Horse Association.

Phase II will focus on determining attitudes of people regarding horses and horseback riding. This survey also will explore why people get involved with horses, and what prevents others from becoming involved. The key to getting people involved seems to be getting them horseback again, or for the first time. "We feel it will be a grass roots campaign, requiring each one of us to do a part in introducing others to the horse," said HIA director Gary Carpenter. "We can use a lot of the existing infrastructure as opposed to building something new. We want to help organizations help others understand the barriers to owning a horse, and overcome them."

HIA can be reached at PO Box 9187, Gaithersburg, MD 20898; 301/519-9588. Membership is open to anyone interested in supporting HIA's mission to increasing public participation with horses.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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