First of all, we would like to thank everyone that took part in our survey. There were one or two dissenting voices and, sadly, one person descended into a personal attack on one of the survey’s authors; nevertheless, in general, the reception was positive.
Just to clear up one or two points raised:
We are sorry that not all the answers in the multiple choice questions suited everyone – occasionally choices have to be made when setting questions and, as anyone who has taken part either in professional psychological tests or simple online quizzes will confirm, at times we are given to choose from something not entirely appropriate to our own situation. We could possibly have given an “other” option a little more often…
A few people felt the questions to be biased. The questions were reviewed by equine professionals, amateurs and even the veterinary profession and we have made a concerted effort to avoid bias; the personal opinions of those involved in the survey should have no place in the actual results. One source of confusion over this matter may be the fact that questions were “streamed”; where there was an either/or choice, subsequent questions would relate to the principal answer. However, the questions remained essentially the same (for example, someone who used a bit was asked why, someone who didn’t was asked why not). Again, maybe some explanation at the start of the survey might have been better.
The results are not intended to reflect what is good nor what is bad: we are not seeking to divide opinion nor to take any side in an argument with this survey; we simply want to present a picture of the current welfare situation of the horse. Remember, welfare is not the same for everyone: one considers stabling essential, another an abomination, one considers barefoot to be the right choice, another finds shoes a necessity. Whatever the personal perception, we have tried to portray the variety of ways horses’ welfare is approached without being judgemental.
Although the survey has been posted within differing disciplines, the actual demographics are a little more complicated. Just which discipline stables more or shoes less, who feeds what and when, these things are neither represented nor asked in the survey. This alone prevents jumping to conclusions about who might be “better” for their horse – a question that, as has already been stated, is not being posed.
So, what are the initial results?
- a larger number of respondents indicated that they keep their horses out 24/7 with only 1/5 stabling their horses; from reactions to the questionnaire, it is probable that a number of owners responded with 24/7 since they do not stable all year around.
- of those stabling, nearly 90% stable at night, although more than a third of these said they reverse the situation at certain times of the year, keeping their horses in during the day and turning out at night.
- only one person said they always turn out at night.
- more than 10 % of respondents said their horses are never turned out.
of those horses stabled
- a small majority has between 6 and 12 hours turnout
- a little under ⅓ of stabled horses being turned out for up to 18 hours
- just under 10% are turned out for somewhere up to 6 hours a day
- only one horse is shown as spending more than 18 hours a day on turnout
- as already recorded, more than 10% are never turned out
for all horses, stabled and not stabled – but, of course, not including those not turned out:
- just 5% are segregated in their own paddock or field; the reasoning was not specifically questioned
- a very small majority is turned out with one or two other horses
- more than 40% is turned out in a larger group – these two last groups account for over 90% of the horses represented
- 5 horses have the company of other animals including donkeys, cattle, chickens, goats, sheep and dogs – although two are apparently also in the company of a different sort of horse!
- nearly ⅔ of horses has unrestricted access to grass, slightly more than those with unrestricted access to hay (57%)
- more than 20% of owners restricts access to grass whereas just over 10% restricts hay access
- about 6% of owners allow their horses brief grazing with slightly fewer not allowing any grazing
- between 4% and 5% of owners each fed hay once, thrice or four times a day with a very small majority in this group that feeds twice a day
- more than 5% of owners never feeds hay
- just two horses are fed grains/cereals ad lib – the authors are not sure whether this is actually the case, or whether the answer was misunderstood.
- 17% feeds their horses restricted grains/cereals – this could possibly be categorised with the following:
- over 40% feed once or twice a day – the numbers being divided almost equally
- a large number but by no means a majority (38%) never feeds grains/cereals
- nearly ⅔ of owners gives their horse supplements, of these
- ⅔ give once a day and ⅓ twice (just 1 and 2 people respectively give 4 and 3 times a day)
- the supplements given vary widely although often they appear to be of a “general” nature. Very few owners indicate that they use specific makes. Magnesium and turmeric (curcuma) feature fairly regularly, as does vitamin E – only one instance is given of giving vitamin C. Other fairly specific mentions worth noting are biotin, zinc and copper and selenium. Although nobody specifically recorded iron, there was one owner that gave seaweed.
- 4/5 of owners give their horses access to a salt lick – a third of these also offer a mineral lick
- the remaining 1/5 give a mineral lick alone.
- Few people seem to take part in competition with any regularity, harness racing being almost completely absent!
- A slightly larger group rides in harness recreationally but by far the most popular activity is recreational outdoor riding over short distances
- Freestyling is fairly evenly spread among the occasionals, sometimes’ and the mostlies – although, when considering other demographics, a slightly surprising 35% never practices freestyle
- More than a third of respondents is active more than 16 hours a week with just under 40% active between 8 and 16 hours
- Just 7½% fall into the category of less than 4 hours.
The singling out any group within this survey was never the intention and probably nowhere is more prone to the pointing finger than within the sphere of the horse’s hoof. For this reason, although the figures are extant from the point of channeling the questions, the actual split shod/unshod is not discussed.
the shod horse:
- a fairly even split – more than 60% total – indicated that their horse would go lame or his feet would wear down too fast without shoes
- just over 10% felt their horse needed them for competition despite it not being a requirement, with less than 5% citing competitions that do require shoes
- a fraction under 9% cites poor/crumbly/split hooves as the reason for needing to shoe
- nearly 18% had been advised by a professional to apply orthopædic shoes – more than 10% being the vet
- a small number cited comfort as a reason for shoeing; arthritis and acute laminitis being others
the unshod horse:
- less than 5o% has always been barefoot
- more than ¾ believe shoes to be damaging to the horse
- over 12% cite the restricted amount or absence of riding as a reason for not shoeing
- maybe surprisingly more farriers advised barefoot than vets but the total number of cases was appreciably smaller than advice to shoe.
- transition experiences varied, some took a long time, others were almost instant. In general, 6 months seems to be a normal period
- more than 60% considered using hoof boots of which nearly 20% ended up not
- the overwhelming majority cite the reason for boots as being difficulty on stony or rocky terrain with ¼ citing transition difficulties.
- nearly 25% has stopped using boots; 50% still use them but only on difficult/long rides.
The use, or not, of bits was fairly even – a tiny majority choosing bitless over a bit.
Most people seemed to prefer the bit for the control they experienced, but this was also the general reason given by those who didn’t bit ! Several people expressed a desire to go bitless but said they hadn’t (yet) got the confidence. Nearly 60% of those who used a bit, said that they also rode bitless. The most used bit was the snaffle or a derivation thereof while the most used bitless setup was the sidepull.
Finally, 97% of people said that the horse weaned naturally from its mother between 6 and 24 months with a small majority indicating 6 – 12 months.
Although a clear majority, well over three-quarters, said the horse was fully grown at between 5 and 8 years – with 3 – 5 and 8 – 15 each taking a 10% share – nearly 40% considers a horse capable of being ridden at between 3 and 5 years with 55% choosing 5 – 8. Just two people felt 6 – 12 and 12 – 24 months to be possible.
Over 47% considered a horse to be old at between 22 and 27 years with just over 30% placing the old horse between 27 and 35. Just 6% placed the old horse above 35 years, considerably less than the 15% that felt the 15 – 22 year old was old; although only two people put the age at 8 – 15.
These figures tend to correlate with the perceived average age at which a horse dies, 36% saying 22 – 27 and 33% saying 27 – 35. The latter seems to be something of a limit – just 11 people thought the average age of death to be over 35. It was rather disheartening to see how many people chose a lower age, well over ¼ putting it at under 22.
Most people again placed the life expectancy of the horse in the 27 – 35 bracket although now a third went for the 35 – 42 age range. Just over 5% considered it to be over 42 – nobody placed it below 15. This last was surprising since 1% felt the longevity to be in this bracket. In general, it appears that respondents felt longevity to be one bracket higher than life expectancy although 12.5% put it above 50.
Responses were received from, in no specific order, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, UK, USA
We would like to thank everyone that has taken part; the survey is still open and will remain so until the last week of June and the final – full – analysis should be available by mid September.