Assessing Horse Well-Being With the ‘Five Domains’

The domains focus on horses’ nutrition, environment, health, behavior, and mental experiences.

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Assessing Horse Well-Being With the
Researchers are working to create a solid, objective framework for assessing horses' well-being. | Photo: iStock
We all do it. We look at horses in certain situations and make judgments about whether they’re happy or not. We say, “How would you like to live in those conditions?” Or, “Look at that face he’s making. You can tell he hates that!” Or, “Look how comfortable he is now with that new training technique!”

But the fact of the matter is we—even equitation scientists and equine welfare researchers—might still be lacking a solid, reliable, objective framework for assessing a horse’s well-being.

That’s why a panel of horse welfare professionals decided to assess the welfare implications of common management, breeding, and training techniques according to a set animal welfare model: “The Five Domains.” Funded by the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation, among others, the project revealed the risks of making inaccurate “assumptions” when assessing equine welfare, said Paul McGreevy, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, MACVS (Animal Welfare), professor of animal behavior and animal welfare science at the University of Sydney, in Australia. He presented the group’s work during the 2017 International Society for Equitation Science Symposium, held Nov. 22-26 in Wagga Wagga, Australia.

World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) researchers developed the Five Domains concept. They updated the model and presented it in its latest form at the 4th OIE Global Conference on Animal Welfare, held in 2016 in Guadalajara, Mexico. It now ties into the “OneWelfare” concept, which suggests animal and human welfare are intertwined

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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