Interactive WEG Booth Offers a Look into the Horse's World

Interactive WEG Booth Offers a Look into the Horse's World

Full-scale jumps give visitors the chance to experience the true size of a Grand Prix obstacle.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

The next time you’re in a traffic jam or a crowded elevator, take a look around. How many of those people know what hay smells like, do you think? Or horse hair? Or manure? How many of them could describe the sounds a horse hears in a stable?

And what about you? How well do you know horses? Would you be able to tell what a horse’s heart beat and respiration sound like?           

A new education effort, led by a French behavior researcher and her business associate, is aiming to increase awareness about horses—for both riders and the general public. They believe that if people understand horses better, the horses will ultimately benefit. 

“Improving equine welfare begins with education and awareness, and that’s our initiative,” said Claire Neveux, MSc, researcher and equine behavior consultant.

She launched that initiative—now backed by Alltech, the official sponsor of the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG)—on Aug. 23 in Caen, France, in the WEG Village. The “Equispher” stand, developed by Neveux and sports communication specialist Martine Villain, provides an interactive learning center for equestrians and nonequestrians alike. Neveux and Villain hope their stand will lead people to look at horses in a different way.

“We want people to see that these are real animals with specific needs and requirements, but with an impressive capacity to perform, and that their health and welfare should be respected,” Neveux said.

In the Equispher booth, visitors can stand in special “hearing zones” to listen to the sounds a horse hears in a stable. A Vital Signs hearing zone allows visitors to get experience the heart beat and respiratory rate that horses feel—and veterinarians detect—during both rest and exercise.

Visitors can also get an exclusive look at how horses see, said Neveux. Her team developed a video simulation of what horses see when walking through a pasture or while working under saddle, with a view from inside the horse’s head.

In the “odor area,” people can get a whiff of the different smells in a barn. While equestrians probably don’t need much help there, the odor zone has been pretty popular with the general public, Neveux said.

In the “performance zone,” visitors can view real-life measurements showing the horse’s athletic capacity. An 8-foot -1¼-inch wall represents the one cleared by the record-breaking jumper Huaso under the Chilean rider Captain Alberto Larraquibel. It’s set next to a standard 160-cm Grand Prix jump—which is alone impressive for most visitors, Neveux said.

“People see these horses jumping at the WEG events, but unless you’re standing right next to one of the obstacles, you really can’t get a grasp on how big these things really are,” she said. “It really evokes a lot of respect for what these horses are doing.”

Visitors can also handle life-size equine organs made of fabric and stuffed with fiber filling, similar to stuffed animals. The plush organs put a horse’s internal body into perspective; the large intestine, for instance, is as wide as most people's legs. There’s only one organ that’s not life-size, Neveux admitted. “The small intestine is in reality much longer than this,” she said, holding up yards of fabric. “But it just wasn’t practical to keep such long strands of fabric in the stand. But I think people get the idea.”

They can also get an idea of equine welfare needs in the “welfare” zone, a life-size stable that features horses' basic, research-based housing and social needs.

“Of course our goal is to reach riders—and future riders—because they are the people who will be responsible for horses, so of course they need to fully understand this animal that they’re taking care of,” Neveux said. “But equally importantly, we wanted to reach the general public, including people who might never own or ride a horse. Horses share our world, and it’s important for everyone to be aware of their needs. So the next time one of these people comes across a horse and rider on the road, for example, they’ll remember that the horse is a special animal with special needs. Hopefully they’ll slow down and won’t honk, because then they’ll know that horses are sensitive to that.”

The Equispher project will be ongoing after the close of the WEG Village stand, Neveux said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at a competition stable east of Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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