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"Equine Welfare" - a review

This well-written book, authored by Marthe Kiley Worthington, tosses a life preserver to those of us entrenched in the stormy sea of equine and animal welfare concerns. In general when the welfare of animals, particularly horses, is discussed the viewpoints are decidedly divided.

On the one side we have those that think of horses only as vehicles to help carry our equestrian desires and/or human burdens. Horses compete, toil and entertain their two-legged owners without ever demanding anything in return. Because they make no demands humans impose their human-biased knowledge and ideas of correct care upon the beasts – sometimes this serves the beast well and other times it does not.

On the other side are those that feel we should not keep animals at all. Horses were meant to be wild and free and they should be so again without any imposition from humans. Ms Worthington dares to examine why not peaceful coexistence based more from the animals’ perspective (rather than the human) and then produces an intellectual and just argument for such.

Horses have been an essential part of human advancement for many thousands of years and yet the science of proper care has just started to support or dispute the status quo of hippology. Careful research of others as well as Ms. Wothington's own studies serve to provide perspective and scienctific support for all offered ideas both old and new.

The author challenges many of the typical ways horses are kept. 24/7 in a box stall is a convenience contrived for the humans involved in equine care. Horses were meant to be outside grazing and moving most of the time. Citing behavioral stress activities such as weaving and cribbing as indicators of horses’ metal health Ms. Worthington repeatedly proves that these behaviors are eradicated in most horses when released from confinement. This however does not inherently point to no human involvement as the only solution it just means humans should adapt our own behaviors in order to ensure a fair quality of life for our horses.

Many other such differences are discussed and the book centers much of the debate from the following statements by the author:

“(a) I do not believe that contact with humans inevitably has to cause prolonged suffering to equines, or other animals for that matter.

(b) It does of course depend how the equines are looked after, managed and trained. Done well (however this is), this contact can be an enriching experience: it can improve the quality of life of the humans certainly, and possibly the equines too.

(c) Is doing unnatural things necessarily bad and going to reduce the quality of life for human or animal? After all humans learn to read and write and we all agree that they should do. This is not natural but it is considered to enrich life. Correctly done, so that there is no suffering, learning different and new things could presumably also enrich the life of equines…unless of course they do not have a mind and cannot learn things.”

I think all of us that have cared for and loved a horse know that they do indeed have a mind - and a highly engaging mind at that. And I also believe that anyone that has had the grand experience of their horse(s) running to greet them at the gate knows that they, themselves, have enriched the lives of their horses. The book covers many ways to assess whether or not the care we provide to our horses does really enrich their lives or only ours. For those truly interested in the differences this is a must read.

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