Midway through the 2015 All American Quarter Horse Congress, videos of Western pleasure horses warming up in a way that many Facebook and YouTube commenters viewed as unnatural and inhumane sparked outrage when they surfaced online. The response has been divided: Some camps believe these horses’ gaits and training are normal and pleasing to the eye, while others label them as cruel and bizarre.

Regardless, there’s clearly a need for better education and understanding of equine welfare in the stock horse world, and it’s something Melissa Voigt, MS, PhD, PAS, of Agricultural Education Solutions, in Lafayette, Indiana, has been studying for years. She recently developed a model for improving show horse welfare and presented it at the 2015 International Society of Equitation Science, held Aug. 6-9 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Many trainers compromise horses’ welfare for the sake of winning,” Voigt began. “Several organizations (the American Quarter Horse Association, American Horse Council, and Federation Equestre Internationale, for instance) have formed committees to improve horse welfare, but issues still persist.”

Welfare issues in the stock horse industry she’s cited in previous studies include:

  • An overall incomplete understanding of welfare.
  • Common occurrences of excessive jerking on the reins; excessive spurring; induced excessive unnatural movement; excessively repetitious aid or practice; and excessive continued pressure on the bit.
  • Unr