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Open AccessReview

On-Farm Welfare Assessment of Horses: The Risks of Putting the Cart before the Horse

Univ Rennes, Normandie Univ, CNRS, EthoS (Éthologie animale et humaine)-UMR 6552, F-35380 Paimpont, France
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(3), 371;
Received: 2 February 2020 / Revised: 13 February 2020 / Accepted: 23 February 2020 / Published: 25 February 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
The present review examines existing protocols for assessing horse welfare at the farm level. Recent scientific studies converge to promote animal-based rather than resource-based criteria for these assessments because they better represent the actual welfare state of an animal. We examine existing protocols, their strengths and limitations in terms of choice of indicators, sampling methods and scoring and then confront their results with those obtained in different scientific studies. It appears that there is still a need for more research, and we propose lines of thought and practical aspects for improvement. This is highly important in order to avoid under-evaluation of horses’ welfare, which would be deleterious for the discrimination of positive versus welfare-compromising practices. Animals express their internal states through behavioral changes, and the first window we can have into an animal’s mental state of positive or negative well-being is by observing behavioral modifications, which should be the first step. At this stage, in high-income countries, more research has to be developed before disseminating protocols or results to the public. It is important to avoid proposing protocols that rely upon indicators that still need to be refined in order to ensure the reliability of their dissemination.
Although the question of animal welfare has been an important source of concern in the scientific community for several decades, many aspects are still under debate. On-farm assessments have to be rapid, acceptable to farmers and safe for both the assessors and animals. They are thus very demanding, with multiple decisions to make, such as the choice of appropriate indicators, sampling methods and scoring. Research has moved from resource-based to animal-based criteria, which reflects the subjective welfare state of an animal rather than relying upon external indices. In the present review, we describe two major (i.e., the most frequently/recently tested or disseminated) protocols: one in low-/middle-income countries, and the other in high-income countries, for on-farm assessments of horses, using animal-based resources; we evaluate their strengths and limitations, and then we compare their results with those obtained by various other studies. We propose lines of improvement, particularly in view of public dissemination, and offer suggestions for further refinement or new protocols. We emphasize the high risks of putting the cart before the horse, i.e., proposing protocols that rely upon indicators and sampling methods that need to be refined, as this could lead to under-evaluation (or less likely over-evaluation) of current welfare problems. Because welfare is a subjective experience, the true representation of an individual’s actual welfare status has to be evaluated by using objective assessment tools (that are validated and have a scientific basis) used by well-trained observers. View Full-Text
Keywords: welfare; horse; on-farm assessment; ethology welfare; horse; on-farm assessment; ethology
MDPI and ACS Style

Hausberger, M.; Lerch, N.; Guilbaud, E.; Stomp, M.; Grandgeorge, M.; Henry, S.; Lesimple, C. On-Farm Welfare Assessment of Horses: The Risks of Putting the Cart before the Horse. Animals 2020, 10, 371.

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