Just to begin with, I am not suggesting that I am some kind of expert or that I know all the answers. I know there is a hell of a lot out there in the equine industry I have never even come across, let alone understand. However, I sometimes find it amazing how little some people know about their own horses. I am not suggesting that these owners are neglecting their horses, just that with more knowledge their lives and health could be improved. Examples that come to mind are; what to feed, how to build muscle, the best way for horse to work, importance of understanding natural behaviours, not understanding or noticing warning signs. I just can’t help but feel that better education for horse owners would improve the overall welfare of our horses. After all, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Importance of Nutritional Knowledge
I feel it is vital for owners to understand what their horses nutritional needs are and feed accordingly. I’m sure you can all think of at least one person who is guilty of not doing this, whether they are aware of it or not. It is important to understand how much energy your horse really needs. How many ponies do you know getting fed high energy feeds? Does your horse have any health problems which may change what you feed? Less starch or protein maybe? Are those supplements really helping in any way?
Although there is more and more help available to potential owners with vets and nutritionists usually offering free advice, how many owners really consider all of the above? I personally know several people who either feed too much because they feel guilty feeding less or feeding the wrong things because it looks or smell nice. Although it may not be affecting the horses health, it can cause problems in other areas such as riding or handling.
Biomechanics and Way Of Going
By now the majority of the UK industry should have an idea on the importance of a horse working low or in an outline. When a horse works low and round its uses its back and hind end in a way which helps it carry a rider and be a better athlete. It also reduces the risk of problems developing in the back such as kissing spine and hollow back. However, in order to do this the horse needs to build up the correct muscle which takes time and correct work. I have come across too many people who think that if they pull the head in, this solves the problem. However, this usually encourages the horse to lean on the contact, not supporting themselves. The horse is also often tense through the neck and doesn’t engage the back and hind end. Therefore not working correctly, despite the head looking like it is in the right place.
Natural horse behaviour is important to how you manage your horse. An example of this is that horses naturally spend the majority of the day eating forage. Therefore we have to replicate this in our domestic horses, failure to do this often leads to problems such as stomach ulcers. These are often hard to recognise and any changes in behaviour are often dismissed as naughtiness rather than a sign of pain or discomfort. It is for this reason that any changes in your horses behaviour should be considered carefully, to rule out health problems.
Importance of Horse Owner Education
This brings me to the main point of this post, how are owners meant to know these things? Unlike other countries such as Switzerland, there is no license required to own and care for horses. This means someone with no horsey knowledge, experience or education can care for a horse. Although to some extend I do believe a license to own horses in the UK would be a good thing to consider, I feel there are more immediate things which can be done.
Organisations like The Pony Club and The British Horse Society offer teaching and qualifications for adults and children, educating them in horse care and management. Social media has also played a huge role, allowing like minded horse owners to get together and ask for advice and tips, also helping to improve how we care for our horses. However, I feel more can be done to reach owners and educate them in key things to think about. I am unsure as to how this could be achieved, but I feel educating the equine industry can only benefit everyone.
I understand that for some of you, none of the things I have spoken about have been new knowledge, but the point I am trying to get across is that these things that are often taken for granted, can often make a massive difference to the horse if the owner has better equine education.