Can Horses Tell Us If They’re Happy, Have Good Welfare?

Researchers are still lacking reliable tools to understand what good equine welfare looks like from the horse’s point of view, but they’re making progress.
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“We need to recognize that welfare isn’t one point in time but everything that makes up that broader picture, giving a view on the equine quality of life,” Waran said. “Is it a good life? A life worth living? A life not worth living? We really want to have good welfare, and that means good quality of life.” | Photo: iStock

We might think we know good equine welfare when we see it. But do we? A leading equitation scientist says it’s only when we get into a horse’s head and understand his emotional state can we really be sure of his welfare status.

“Is it okay to make the assumption that if the horse has what it wants and doesn’t have what it doesn’t want, he’s ‘happy’?” asked Natalie Waran, PhD, of the Eastern Institute of Technology, in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. “We’re still lacking reliable tools that help us understand what good welfare is from the horse’s point of view.”

Waran discussed the challenges of assessing equine emotional state during her plenary lecture at the 2017 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held Nov. 22-26 in Wagga Wagga, Australia

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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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