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Equine welfare on a global scale

A look at the welfare issues facing horses worldwide and the importance of continuing education in tackling them

24 June 2018, at 2:47pm

I was recently fortunate enough to be asked to speak at the World Equine Veterinary Association (WEVA) Conference in Beijing, China. WEVA works incredibly hard to advance the health of horses worldwide by promoting and offering quality continued education for equine practitioners, specifically in countries with limited access to high quality, broad-based professional education. 

One of the main organisers was an old friend of mine, Chris Riggs. Chris shares my view that the best way to improve the welfare of the horse is via continuing education of equine veterinary surgeons and the allied sciences and professions. One of my presentations in Beijing was on the importance of an association for veterinary surgeons. There is no such association in China at the moment – what a wonderful legacy it would be if the conference encouraged the development of an association for vets. 

It won’t be easy in China, not least given the vast size of the country. Others are far more qualified than me to speak about the particular equine welfare issues China has, but suffice to say the formation of an equine veterinary association should be a force for good. Meanwhile, I felt very privileged to have a room full of seemingly enthusiastic vets when giving my presentation. 

Our own British Equine Veterinary Association also shares the view that the welfare of the horse can be beneficially promoted via the veterinary and allied sciences. By providing such education and forums for discussion we can help tackle the welfare problems we face here in the UK. 

Horse and Hound recently reported that the number of horses rescued by the RSPCA has reached a four-year high. The charity rescued almost one thousand horses last year, with many suffering from horrendous health issues. In a similar vein, the BBC reported on the RSPCA’s grave concerns about horses regularly being “fly-tipped” and left to die. While the reasons for this may well be multifactorial, the RSPCA has highlighted the undeniable fact that some horses can be bought incredibly cheaply. In turn, this means they can be bought by owners who can ill-afford to look after them if they remain healthy, let alone should they suffer health problems. 

Jonathan Pycock and Chris Riggs at the WEVA Conference opening ceremony
Jonathan Pycock and Chris Riggs at the WEVA Conference opening ceremony

In a particularly horrifying incident last month, an eightmonth-old filly foal appears to have suffered an acid attack, resulting in severe burns to her face. Our amazing veterinary colleagues at Rainbow Equine Hospital are providing expert care for the filly. Pioneering surgery has been funded by the hospital, the RSPCA and generous donations from the public. Veterinary specialists have even flown over from California to help, free of charge. Such a united front of care, compassion and support has literally saved a life. 

Prevention is always better than cure and we all hope that the new Central Equine Database will help to encourage responsible horse ownership. On another positive note, BEVA Trust is working in partnership with the BHS to deliver the Education and Welfare Castration Clinics around the UK. At the first clinic of 2018, a total of 65 horses were passported and microchipped, a significant number were wormed and 32 were castrated. These clinics are certainly helping to encourage responsible ownership, even if it’s just in a small way. Further clinics are planned and BEVA members are encouraged to volunteer their support.

While some of our equine colleagues are somewhat critical of this project, in the light of the current equine welfare crisis we are facing here in the UK it is surely better to actively do something, no matter how small. Of course, if anyone wishes to see BEVA Trust engage in other projects, please do not hesitate to get in touch and we will certainly consider your suggestions. 

It is important as equine veterinary surgeons that we respond to the welfare crisis as a matter of urgency. It is not a time for carping from the sidelines, rather we all need to pull together to improve this sad state of affairs. Surely we owe this much to the horse, on whom we have all founded our careers?

Jonathan Pycock is an equine claims consultant for the Veterinary Defence Society and an equine reproduction expert. He is the immediate past president of the British Equine Veterinary Association.

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