Low-Stress Horse Husbandry

From reinforcing behaviors to reading facial expressions, adopting welfare-friendly handling practices can improve equine well-being and human safety.
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Low-Stress Horse Husbandry
Vet and farrier visits are infrequent, so training must be set up between appointments. The goal of training is to change teh way the horse feels, so they are relaxed during routine health procedures. | Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Adopting welfare-friendly handling practices can improve equine well-being and human safety

As a veterinary behaviorist, Katherine Houpt has seen many cases of undesirable and even dangerous equine antics. Often, however, these behaviors are rooted in anxiety, not animosity. Take the Miniature Horse with a history of rearing and striking at his farrier and veterinarian, for instance. Houpt explained to the owner that the Mini’s eyes, ears, and facial expressions displayed fear, not aggression.

“A lot of things that we as veterinarians do to horses scares them,” says Houpt, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVB, professor emeritus at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Ithaca, New York. “We need to learn to be aware of the horse’s emotions.”

From reinforcing behaviors to reading facial expressions, adopting welfare-friendly handling practices can improve equine well-being and human safety. In this article we’ll describe how to incorporate these into your horse management routine

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Freelance journalist Natalie DeFee Mendik is a multiple American Horse Publications editorial and graphics awards winner specializing in equestrian media. She holds an MA in English from Colorado State University and an International Federation of Journalists’ International press card, and is a member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists. With over three decades of horse experience, Natalie’s main equine interests are dressage and vaulting. Having lived and ridden in England, Switzerland, and various parts of the United States, Natalie currently resides in Colorado with her husband and two girls.

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