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Living the ‘Best Life’ or ‘One Size Fits All’—Stakeholder Perceptions of Racehorse Welfare

School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol, Langford, Somerset BS40 5DU, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(4), 134;
Received: 6 March 2019 / Revised: 25 March 2019 / Accepted: 28 March 2019 / Published: 31 March 2019
PDF [249 KB, uploaded 31 March 2019]

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British horseracing industry stakeholders were asked to discuss their perceptions of racehorse welfare. From the discussions held with stakeholders eight different areas that would have an effect on welfare were pinpointed, with health as the most important. Two strands ran through all eight identified areas. These were health-related factors and the horse-human relationship. In their view, to live the ‘best life’ possible a horse in training should be treated as an individual whereas a ‘one size fits all’ approach best fitted a life lived where minimum welfare standards were in place. Participants highlighted some of the challenges racehorses face in terms of welfare together with any innovative or uncommon practices they had seen used. Health was seen as the most important challenge to welfare as well as being the most innovative, for instance, the continued growth in specialised veterinary treatments. The results from this study can be combined with practical animal welfare evidence to produce the first British racehorse welfare assessment tool.


The purpose of the study was to explore the perceptions held by British racing industry stakeholders of factors influencing racehorse welfare. Ten focus groups were held across the UK with a total of 42 stakeholders from a range of roles within racehorse care including trainers, stable staff and veterinarians. Participants took part in three exercises. Firstly, to describe the scenarios of a ‘best life’ and the minimum welfare standards a horse in training could be living under. Secondly, to identify the main challenges for racehorse welfare and thirdly, to recall any innovative or uncommon practices to improve welfare they had witnessed. Using thematic analysis, eight themes emerged from the first exercise. Two strands, factors that contribute to maintaining health and the horse-human relationship ran through all eight themes. Across all themes horses living the ‘best life’ were perceived as being treated as individuals rather than being part of a ‘one size fits all’ life when kept under minimum welfare standards. Health was both perceived as the main challenge to welfare as well as one open to innovative practices such as improved veterinary treatments. Data obtained, informed by the knowledge and expertise of experienced stakeholders, combined with practical animal welfare science will be used to develop the first British racehorse welfare assessment protocol. View Full-Text
Keywords: racehorse welfare; health; horse-human relationship; focus groups; thematic analysis racehorse welfare; health; horse-human relationship; focus groups; thematic analysis
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Butler, D.; Valenchon, M.; Annan, R.; Whay, H.R.; Mullan, S. Living the ‘Best Life’ or ‘One Size Fits All’—Stakeholder Perceptions of Racehorse Welfare. Animals 2019, 9, 134.

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