Horses are used for a wide variety of purposes, from being used for recreational purposes to competing at an international level. With these different uses, horses have to adapt to numerous challenges and changes in their environment, which can be a challenge in continuously safeguarding their welfare. The objective of this study, conducted in the Netherlands, was to assess the prevalence of health disorders with clinical examination and identify possible risk factors of health disorders affecting horse welfare in horses in the Netherlands.
With the use of fixed protocols for recording health aspects in horses, 150 horse farms voluntarily participating in the study were evaluated by trained assessors. On each farm, 20 horses were clinically examined; in total, almost 3,000 animals. The study recorded (based on clinical examinations) information on the respiratory system (abnormal breathing: 1%, coughing: 1%, nasal discharge: 2%), body condition (19% were fat and 6% were in poor body condition), locomotion (14.5% exhibited irregularity of locomotion and 5% were lame), back palpation (23% had a light response and 8% had a moderate to severe response), mouth (irregularities on mouth corners were found in 3%, while 3% had bars), and ocular discharge was found in 12%.
Statistical analysis found several risk factors for health aspects. Horses used for instruction (i.e. riding lessons) were almost two times more at risk to develop moderate to severe back pain compared to horses used for recreation or for competition. Horses used for instruction, breeding, or recreation all had a higher risk for irregular locomotion or lameness compared to competition horses. Horses used for recreation were more prone to have a higher body condition score compared to horses used for breeding and instruction.
These results may provide the basis for horse welfare and health programs on farm in the Netherlands and beyond. With the development of a valid welfare monitoring system for the horse industry, the welfare of horses can be increased through improving awareness and changes in management.
Summarized by: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota