Is your horse a machine? Most certainly not. But well-meaning owners might nonetheless make the ethical blunder of treating their horses as though they were machines in their service, according to an equine behavior specialist.

This "instrumentalization" of horses has been a trend throughout history, but modern research–particularly in the growing field of equitation science–is helping owners not just care about their horses, but also for them, said Daniel S. Mills, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ECVBM-CA, European and RCVS Recognized Specialist in Veterinary and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Lincoln in the U.K.

In the opening plenary lecture of the 7th International Equitation Science Conference, held Oct. 26-29 in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands, Mills said humans should respect three primary moral principles when it comes to managing horses: wellness, autonomy, and fairness. Horses should be given good health care with total absence of intentional harm; they should be treated as individuals and not generalized; and they should be treated fairly without discrimination, he explained.

"If you want the best out of your horse, you’ll get the best by first making sure his needs (as outlined above) are met," Mills said. "Good performance is integrally interlinked with good welfare. We need to pay more attention to their social needs and their needs for security and safety. These have become essential; they’re not a luxury anymore, once we have met their more basic needs."

He emphasized that the key to ethical horse management is knowing how to deal