A study supported by Hartpury University into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on horses and horse owners has provided a number of recommendations for the equine industry, to mitigate the potential impact.
Dr Jane Williams – Associate Professor and Head of Research at Hartpury – joined scientific and equine consultant Dr David Marlin and Louisa Taylor MRCVS, veterinary surgeon with equine nutrition specialists Science Supplements, in carrying out the study.
They found that approximately one-third of horse owners are worried they will suffer a financial impact as result of the pandemic that may affect horse management and welfare, as well as having implications for horse owners’ mental health and wellbeing.
Dr Williams said: “We hope our study and recommendations will help organisations within the equine industry to develop a better understanding of the effects of the current situation, including social distancing and restrictions on travel.
“Our aim is to produce more targeted advice for horse owners, yard managers and owners, equestrian professionals and professional bodies such as vets, farriers and welfare officers.
“We thought it was key to try and understand what the impact of the pandemic could be on horses and their owners, including the negative effect on equine welfare as a result of financial issues that could arise through horse owners being furloughed or losing their jobs.
“For many people, the emotional bond they develop with a horse is the same as the bonds that other people have with a dog or a cat – they’re a member of the family.
“Our study found that some people were missing the time that they’d spend with their horses, which seems to be having a negative impact on their own mental health and wellbeing.”
Attracting 6,000 responses, the study took the form of a survey featuring 16 structured questions with multiple choice-type answers and two free-form answer opportunities.
It found that while horse owners in all types of establishments were being affected by the pandemic, the greatest impact had been felt by owners on part or full livery.
In response to their overall findings, Dr Williams, Dr David Marlin and Louisa Taylor MRCVS have recommended that more guidance should be issued to owners in relation to horse welfare during the current lockdown.
They advocate further government direction on whether driving to attend horses, if owners need to care for them, is an essential journey in line with current restrictions on travel.
They have also proposed more guidance for horse owners, equestrian businesses and coaches about how they can access support if their finances are being negatively affected by the pandemic.
Dr Marlin said: “We recommend that equine charities are supported in preparation for increased demand related to the potential financial impact of the pandemic on horse owners and subsequent challenges to equine welfare.”
“We would encourage an equestrian social support network, to promote positive mental wellbeing for horse owners affected by restricted access to their horse and who are worrying about current situation.
Louisa Taylor MRCVS added: “We recommend support for key workers who are horse owners to manage their horses.
“We are planning to repeat the survey later in the summer in order to assess how the current situation has progressed.”
All research activity at Hartpury – one of the largest equine educational institutions in the world – either directly or indirectly informs not only current industry practice but also the curriculum.
Research is fully integrated within teaching, with staff research active in the areas in which they teach and many dissertations embedded in larger scale research projects.
Equine research students at Hartpury University have access to a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment and laboratories to support their studies.
The facilities within the Equine Therapy Centre and the Margaret Giffen Centre for Rider Performance enable biomechanical and physiological studies of both horse and rider.
Recent equine graduates from Hartpury, which offers a range of equine-related diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and PhDs, have embarked on careers with a number of major employers, including Cheltenham Racecourse, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and The Horse Trust.