New study exposes risks of some headcollars for horses

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Equine

A new study involving Hartpury University has made recommendations to the equine industry to mitigate the potential risks associated with headcollar usage, after it exposed some worrying statistics.  

An online survey, jointly conducted by Dr Jane Williams, Head of Research and Associate Professor at Hartpury University, revealed that 31% of 5,615 respondents had experienced a horse being injured as a result of wearing a headcollar, used to hold, lead and tie up horses while they’re not being ridden. 

The new study – published in Equine Veterinary Education – found that 134 headcollar-related incidents resulted in a horse sustaining a fracture, while 167 equine fatalities were cited and attributed to headcollar usage. The risk of an injury increased by 70% when horses were tied up while wearing a headcollar, according to the study. 

The frequency of injury was highest amongst owners using webbing headcollars and lowest amongst those opting for a leather product.  

Dr Williams conducted the study with renowned equine scientist Dr David Marlin and Dr Kirstie Pickles, Clinical Assistant Professor in Equine Medicine, University of Nottingham.  

“Despite the fact headcollars are used on a daily basis, there is very limited information available to horse owners on how to fit them or how to use them safely,” said Dr Williams. 

"We wanted to understand how horse owners were using headcollars and what types of injuries were related to headcollar use. Our results suggest increased education and guidance are needed to help horse owners make evidence informed decisions when using headcollars to improve both their own and their horse’s safety.  

“Caution should be applied when choosing a new headcollar and owners should avoid being swayed by the latest fashions and marketing materials, and instead should focus on evidence from research studies to make informed decisions. 

“Further work building on this study to fully understand headcollar function in different scenarios is needed, and we hope this will lead to industry-approved guidelines for headcollar fit and use.” 

All research activity at Hartpury, which offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate equine degrees, 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 – a world renowned equine educational establishment – have access to a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment and laboratories to support their studies.  

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