Is Your Horse Enjoying the Good Life?

Equine welfare researcher Dr. Natalie Waran addresses the importance of studying, measuring, and caring about our horses’ quality of life.
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Thoroughbred Broodmares Grazing in Pasture
The Five Freedoms include freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal and natural behavior; and freedom from fear and distress. | Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Most people wish for a good quality of life for themselves and their families, and people will go to extraordinary lengths to live their best life. But what about our horses? What is a good life for a domestic horse, who has little control over his environment and lifestyle, and how do we know we’re providing horses with what they need to enjoy a good quality of life?

Natalie Waran, PhD, professor of One Welfare at the Eastern Institute of Technology, in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, addressed these questions during a presentation at the International Society for Equitation Science’s virtual meeting in August.

“The concept of happiness has rarely been defined in animals, and the assessment of positive emotions in horses remains fairly objective due to the little research in the area,” she said. “Horse behavior is often interpreted based on anthropocentric beliefs, risking the use of inappropriate practices because the true emotional state of the horse is missed, misunderstood, or mishandled

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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