The voluntary certification of equine rescue, retirement, and rehabilitation facilities was a major focus during the Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Council’s meeting in Frankfort on March 20. Other matters of discussion included a statistical summary of equine welfare complaints received by the Kentucky State Veterinarian’s Office in 2011.
Council chairman Rusty Ford welcomed 11 additional council members as well as Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James R. Comer to discuss the progress made on goals the council set the last time it met; the primary goal, Ford said, was to develop a certification examination template for use to evaluate Kentucky horse rescues and adoption facilities on a voluntary basis.
“The objectives in developing this voluntary certification program are to give donors of resources a comfort level that funds or equipment will be used well, and to give horse owners a level of comfort that the donated horse will be given an acceptable level of care,” Ford explained.
Bob Coleman, PhD, council member and a professor at the University of Kentucky, presented a grading scale he developed to the council.
"We wanted to start with this being an unintimidating process to facilitate it being used,” Coleman said, also noting that it’s not yet been defined what entity or just who will perform the certification inspections. In developing the template “We looked at a lot of things, with the end result being for a facility to receive certification status, the facility must meet a standard of ability to provide the defined care that includes shelter, nutrition, health care and other basic husbandry practices."
Coleman explained that the certification form is based on a 1- to 3-point grading system, with points awarded in a variety of horse health care and management-related categories. “What constitutes a 1 or a 3 in each of these categories will need to be defined,” he said. "That will probably be a next step if this is on the right track."
The council discussed a number of potential factors that would influence how a rescue is scored. For example, State Veterinarian Robert Stout, DVM, noted that different facilities have different missions (for example, rescue facilities that take all horses, regardless of the maintenance the animals require; retirement facilities that provide homes for older performance horses; or maintenance facilities that simply turn easy keepers out onto grass pastures and provide them with adequate food, shelter, and water), which an inspector should consider when evaluating the properties.
The group reached a consensus that because findings are rather subjective it might be beneficial--and would better ensure consistency--to have more than one individual conduct the facility inspection during the certification process. Many also agreed that at least one inspection should include a licensed veterinarian to evaluate the ability of the potential caregivers.
Several council members expressed that once the group develops and approves a final form inspectors will need to undergo standardized training to ensure all facilities are evaluated on a relatively equal scale. To that end, Stout noted that an equine minimum standards code is currently in the works in Kentucky and should be ready for use by late summer.
Next the council will work on defining what constitutes a "pass" or a "fail," understanding that the certification presents an educational opportunity for rescue facilities. The council agreed that, should a facility receive a low score in some areas, they would have the chance to make changes before undergoing reevaluation by the state.
Ford noted that he hopes the voluntary rescue or adoption facility certification program will be complete and ready for use by late fall.
In other business, council member Alex Barnett provided a summary of a roundtable discussion conducted during the winter meeting of the Kentucky County Judge Executives Association, in which he and Rusty Ford participated. Six 30-minute sessions were conducted, and each session was well-attended by county government officials. Ford reported that numerous officials expressed gratitude to the Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Council for developing minimal standards of care criteria. Animal control and other local regulators use the standards when investigating allegations of equine abuse and neglect.
Along the line of welfare complaints for Kentucky in 2011, Ford reported that, "69 calls were received, with 68% of the calls alleging neglect, 19% reporting improper disposal of carcasses, 12% alleged abuse and 1% of the calls reported apparent abandonment of equine."
About the Author
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.