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A Study of Traveller Horse Owners’ Attitudes to Horse Care and Welfare Using an Equine Body Condition Scoring System

Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Easter Bush, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK
SRUC, Roslin Institute, Easter Bush, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(4), 162;
Received: 25 February 2019 / Revised: 21 March 2019 / Accepted: 28 March 2019 / Published: 12 April 2019
PDF [2041 KB, uploaded 22 April 2019]

Simple Summary

Irish Travellers are an indigenous ethnic minority group. Horses are an important part of Travellers’ lives, with horse ownership considered one of the last links to their nomadic way of life. Travellers keep, breed, and sell horses. Trotting and sulky racing are popular recreational activities. Traveller horses are often viewed as having poor health and welfare by the equine industry and the media although there is little data to support these views. This study aimed to investigate Traveller horse owners’ attitudes to horse care and welfare by using in-depth interviews and body condition scoring, a well-known tool used to detect welfare related conditions, to investigate Travellers’ understanding of horse welfare. The ease of use and accuracy of the body condition scoring tool as applied by Traveller horse owners was assessed. Results indicate that they had a good understanding of a horse’s natural behaviour, which is reflected in their management practices. A major barrier to improved horse welfare cited was land availability. Travellers were found to be able to use the scoring tool easily although further training is recommended. This study provides us with an understanding of how Travellers’ manage their horses. Further research is recommended with a larger sample group.


Traveller horses are often perceived to be exposed to poor welfare due to Travellers’ traditional way of horsemanship. However, few studies have investigated Traveller horse welfare. Hence, the present study aims to explore Traveller horse owners’ attitudes to horse care and welfare. Semi-structured interviews and discussion groups examined 14 Irish Traveller horse owners’ attitudes and approach to horse ownership. Additionally, a body condition scoring (BCS) instrument was assessed for its accuracy and ease of use when applied by Traveller horse owners. Additionally, the BCS system was used to assess 18 horses. Results show that Travellers have a good understanding of horses’ natural behaviours and environment, which is reflected in their management practices. However, barriers to improved welfare are land availability, since landowners are often reluctant to lease to Travellers, and the impoundment of horses as a consequence of fly grazing, under the Control of Horses Act 1996 (Ireland). Furthermore, Travellers regarded the BCS as a useful tool, but would require training to apply the scoring successfully. The results suggest that attitudes and management practices are favourable, but Travellers have limited means to overcome barriers. Therefore, it is necessary to increase capacity building and assist with the acquisition of land. View Full-Text
Keywords: horses; horse welfare; attitudes; Travellers, body condition scoring horses; horse welfare; attitudes; Travellers, body condition scoring
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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Rowland, M.; Coombs, T.; Connor, M. A Study of Traveller Horse Owners’ Attitudes to Horse Care and Welfare Using an Equine Body Condition Scoring System. Animals 2019, 9, 162.

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