WELFARE OF EQUIDS EVER-EVOLVING
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical
Association – February 1, 2000
If all horses could talk like the famous
Mister Ed, their caregivers would not have to debate the ethicality of so many
issues involving this steadfast creature.
Dr. Robert M. Miller, a
Because they cannot communicate verbally, we
need to find other ways to interpret their language. In adopting an
understanding approach to horses and horsemanship, humans have developed a
stronger relationship with the horse, drastically changing several aspects of
In 1998, the film "The Horse Whisperer"
caught the news media's attention, gaining some credit for the widespread
popularity of "natural horsemanship." This training method has taken off like
Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, allowing cowboys and dressage
equestrians alike to gain incredible results while working with the horse,
rather than against it.
Known for imprint training of foals, a form
of natural horsemanship, Dr. Robert M. Miller, Thousand Oaks, Calif, reviewed
this revolution in horsemanship at the AVMA Animal Welfare Forum, presented Dec
8, 1999 in partnership with the AAEP in Albuquerque, NM.
Dr. Miller said, "Credit for the onset of
this change [to natural horsemanship training] has been generally credited to a
Northern California horseman, now in his 90s, Tom Dorrance [1999 recipient of
the AAEP Equine Welfare Award]. ... Using technically correct behavior-shaping
techniques, several of Tom's protégés went on the road doing teaching clinics.
The success of these clinics and the success of the methods taught to them
encouraged other talented horsemen to join the movement and, by the mid-90s,
what has become popularly known as 'natural horsemanship' — because it is
natural to the horse, not to the human — was being accepted and advocated all
over the world."
Traditional horse training methods have
involved force and coercion. "They are less than optimally effective, however,
because pain elicits fear in the horse, and the horse, being a flighty creature,
is motivated to flee when afraid," Dr. Miller said.
Studying a horse's behavior in a herd
environment, Dorrance and others have found the animal is naturally inclined to
follow the herd leader. Using natural horsemanship techniques requires the
trainer to assume body postures similar to a dominant horse, Dr. Miller said.
"The techniques used inspire the horse to regard the human as a herd leader and
to want to follow and be subordinate to that leader. Done correctly, natural
horsemanship produces a horse devoid of fear but filled with respect for the
human who does the training."
Dr. Miller explained that the technique has
become more successful because of the "information explosion," which allows
horse owners access to more information than formerly possible; greater
understanding and acceptance of psychology; the increased involvement of women,
who, "as a rule" are seen as more compassionate, in the horse world; and
changing values of society toward the humane treatment of animals.
Bernard E. Rollin, PhD, professor of
philosophy and biophysics and director of bioethical planning at Colorado State
University, said, "Whereas 20 years ago one would have found no pieces of
federal legislation bearing on animal well-being, more recent years have
witnessed around 60 such proposals each year in Congress alone, ranging from
attempts to prevent duplication in animal research, to saving marine mammals
from becoming victims of tuna fishermen, to preventing importation of ivory, to
curtailing the parrot trade."
Society's changing values toward animals was
partially responsible for changing laws in California. In 1998, California
became the first and only state in which it is illegal to slaughter horses for
human consumption or ship horses out of state to be slaughtered for human
Concern arose not only because Californians
couldn't bear the thought of their backyard pets ending up on dinner tables but
also because of the shipping conditions most slaughter horses endured.
Dr. Venaye P. Reece, equine programs
coordinator for the South Carolina State Veterinary Office and former AAEP
welfare committee member, worked extensively on the equine slaughter transport
issue.” It’s been a controversial issue, and the issue of slaughtering horses
for human consumption is a very emotional one. It's one that depends very much
on geography, and cultural and ethical questions. ... In all cases the animal
must be handled in a humane manner."
In five years, potbellied
trailers may be phased out for shipment of horses.
"The major markets the United States sends
[the final] product to are in Europe, mainly Belgium, France, Italy, and Japan.
The producers are the United States, Canada, Australia, South America, and
Mexico," Dr. Reece added.
In studying transportation issues in the
United States and Canada, Dr. Reece and others have collected data about exactly
who the owners are and what type of horses are being shipped to slaughter. "We
certainly worry about the origin — where are they coming from? Where are they
getting these horses? How are they gathering them? How are they transporting
them? What about assembly points in feedlots?"
Focusing mostly on transport during her
presentation at the Animal Welfare Forum, Dr. Reece said, "Water, food, density
[of horses on trailers], proper vehicle construction, and injury have all been
of concern, and we are trying to address this as much as we can." Horses shipped
for slaughter travel long hours because only three plants that process horse
meat exist in the United States.
In 1996, Congress passed the Safe Commercial
Transport of Horses to Slaughter Act. "This gave the USDA authority to develop
and implement regulations as funding became available," Dr. Reece said. A
federal regulation has now been proposed, possibly to be adopted in spring 2000.
The regulation will address accountability
from the point of purchase to the point of slaughter; inspection on arrival at
the slaughter plant; ability to investigate, charge, and prosecute violators; a
five-year phase-out of double-deck trailers (originally designed to haul
cattle); segregation of stallions and aggressive horses; and a ban on shipping
mares that are close to foaling.
Another law designed to safeguard equids, the
Horse Protection Act, was enacted by Congress in 1970 to prohibit the practice
of exhibiting, showing, or selling sored horses, particularly Tennessee Walking
Horses. "[Soring] is declared in law as being cruel and inhumane and [a
practice] that provides an unfair competitive advantage for the violator," said
Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, deputy administrator, USDA-APHIS Animal Care Unit. The act
is administered by APHIS.
A Tennessee Walking Horse
displaying the "big lick"
"The Tennessee Walking Horse has three
natural gaits: the flat walk, the running walk, and the canter. The term 'big
lick' is used to describe an exaggeration of these gaits in which the horse has
a big reach in front and substantial overstride behind," Dr. DeHaven said. "It
is the big lick that crowds of people come to see and cheer, and the judges
award. Unfortunately, some methods used in training horses to display this
animated gait are abusive; in the industry, such practices are termed 'soring.'"
Under the Horse Protection Act, violators can
be punished by a fine and elimination of their horse from the show or sale
ground. The act does not make it illegal, however, to sore a horse outside the
show ring or sale grounds.
Soring continues, and trainers seek new ways
to mask it from designated qualified persons (industry-trained show inspectors)
and USDA veterinary medical officers. The Tennessee Walking Horse industry
contributes $375 million to Tennessee's economy. Some champion stallions sell
for over a million dollars.
Trainers felt it was necessary to "enhance"
their horses' gaits to keep up with the naturally high-stepping American
Saddlebred. The big lick drew large audiences, and soring of horses increased,
even though the big lick can be achieved through hard work and training.
"[Soring] can be accomplished through the
application of chemical irritants such as mustard oil, croton oil, diesel fuel,
gasoline, turpentine, cinnamon oil, kerosene, or even hand cleaner. A carrying
agent, such as DMSO, is sometimes used to drive the irritant deep into the
underlying tissue. The horse's feet and ankles are then wrapped in a plastic
wrap and regular leg wraps to 'cook' the irritant into the horse's limbs," Dr.
DeHaven said. Chains are fastened around the front pasterns and, during
training, strike against the sensitive areas, further enhancing the gait.
Despite the public's abhorrence of soring,
Congress set the maximal funding for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to
$500,000 per year, and current yearly funding is $350,000. "This funding level
limits the activities USDA can conduct on its own to enforce the act on a
national basis," according to Dr. DeHaven.
"A conflict of interest with the designated
qualified persons program has been a problem, often characterized as the 'fox
guarding the henhouse' due to the close affiliation of some DQP with the
industry. At best, it is a stressful situation for the DQP to inspect the horse
of a friend or a fellow trainer, especially if that person may be judging a
future show where the DQP or his family will participate," Dr. DeHaven said.
Dr. DeHaven said a USDA-proposed operating
plan enacted during the 2000 show season should give Tennessee Walking Horse
show participants a better understanding of the rules. The Walking Horse Report,
www.walkinghorsereport.com, posted explanations of the rules. The
plan attempts to clarify issues and problems to ensure consistent and at least
minimal compliance and enforcement.
Another industry performing self-regulation
has drawn attention from animal rights activists. Pregnant mare urine provides
estrogens to manufacture Premarin, a hormone replacement for women. Some people
are concerned about the well-being of the mares, kept indoors October through
March; others about the offspring, which could end up in slaughterhouses. PMU
ranchers, those who manage mares that produce urine, are also criticized for
regulating water intake through intermittent watering and keeping mares in tie
stalls without adequate turn-out.
Dr. Douglas A. Freeman, director of the
Equine Studies Program, University of Massachusetts Department of Veterinary and
Animal Sciences, is co-chair of Wyeth-Ayerst Global Pharmaceuticals, a company
that is supplied urine by PMU ranchers.
Dr. Freeman said, "The horses' access to
water is managed in order to maintain appropriate stable hygiene. ... Groups
critical of the PMU industry have alleged that these systems do not provide
adequate water for the mares, and that the ranchers restrict water to the mares
in order to produce a lower volume of more concentrated urine."
According to Dr. Freeman, ranchers do not
have incentive to cause mares to produce more concentrated urine, because the
pharmaceutical company contracts for grams of estrogens, independent of urine
volume delivered, and pays for all shipping costs.
Ayerst Global Pharmaceuticals has guidelines
for ranches to follow, the Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and
Handling of Horses in PMU Operations.
A Continuous Improvement Plan has been
developed by veterinarians, quality assurance specialists, and other members of
the PMU industry to improve the well-being of the approximately 35,000 pregnant
mares on PMU ranches, located in North Dakota and Canada.
With the plan, the industry employs field
representative inspectors to conduct monthly, comprehensive ranch reviews.
Ranchers are required to hire an independent veterinarian to conduct three
complete herd health reviews while the mares are stabled. Animal welfare and
equine experts are authorized to inspect ranches.
The AAEP, Canadian VMA, and International
League for the Protection of Horses conducted an extensive ranch review during
the 1996-1997 collection season. The veterinarians reported: "Based on our
inspections, the allegations of inhumane treatment of horses involved in PMU
ranching are unfounded."
Linwood Equine Ranch, a working PMU ranch,
was purchased and developed as a research and educational facility. A
veterinarian manages the facility, oversees herd health, and conducts research.
Noting that Linwood is investigating optimal
turn-out frequency and mare health, Dr. Freeman said, "There is a lack of
objective data that define turn-out requirements for pregnant mares, and critic
groups have expressed concern regarding tie stall management of pregnant mares.
... Regardless of the turn-out schedule employed, the monthly inspection and
veterinary review processes are designed to identify mares that need additional
North American Equine Ranching Information Council is helping PMU ranches raise
better foals. The mares are being bred to Thoroughbred stallions to produce
quality sport horses. "Currently, most foals are intended for show, rodeo,
recreation, ranch, and replacement markets," Dr. Freeman said.
Self-regulation in rodeo has been in place
since the sport's beginnings in the early 1900s. According to Cynthia M.
Schonholtz, animal welfare coordinator, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association,
the rodeo industry has worked with humane organizations to adopt rules to
improve the welfare of rodeo livestock, including horses.
The Rodeo Cowboys Association, precursor to
the PRCA, began formally regulating rodeos in 1947. Now, 60 rules govern the
care of rodeo livestock, Schonholtz said. Some requirements include dulled
spurs, fleece-lined flank straps, and protective horn wraps on all roping
All PRCA rodeos are officiated by Wrangler
Pro Officials System judges. "Not only are the Wrangler Pro Officials charged
with scoring the rough stock rides and flagging timed events, but they are also
responsible for ensuring the livestock scheduled for each performance are fit to
compete and that all members abide by PRCA rules ensuring the proper care of
livestock at PRCA-sanctioned events," Schonholtz said.
"Officials must submit a written report
following each rodeo that includes many details about the rodeo, including the
signature of the onsite veterinarian, arena conditions, and any rule
violations," Schonholtz added.
The PRCA keeps records of such violations,
and violators are punished. According to the PRCA Web site (www.prorodeo.com),
"[The violator] may be disqualified for the remainder of the rodeo and fined
$250 for the first offense, with that fine progressively doubling with each
offense thereafter. Any member guilty of mistreatment of livestock anywhere on
the rodeo grounds shall be fined $250 for the first offense, with that fine
progressively doubling with any offense thereafter."
As many as 40 percent of rodeo bucking horses
end up in the sport because they bucked riders off consistently, according to
Schonholtz. They come from racetracks, ranches, feedlots, and other venues.
Their former owners are assured their horse will have a good home. And, she
noted, many are eventually retired to pasture.
One of the largest and most publicly known
equine industries is racing. Dr. George D. Mundy, general manager and resident
veterinarian at a full-service Thoroughbred breeding operation in Lexington, Ky,
said, "Racehorses, for the most part, are extremely well cared for, with
assigned grooms, around-the-clock monitoring, regular professional care, and
individualized training programs under excellent husbandry conditions, all at
considerable expense to the owners."
Strict regulations have spared the racing
industry from being a target for welfare groups in recent times. Issues disputed
are science related. It is debatable whether performance is affected by, for
example, the use of therapeutic medications such as furo-semide for
exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhages or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
to relieve pain so a horse with sore muscles can race.
Perhaps racing could take on rules similar to
those of the endurance horse sport, wherein "The integrity of endurance
competition requires that the equine is not influenced by any drug, medication,
or veterinary treatment," according to American Endurance Ride Conference rules.
Dr. Dane L. Frazier, 1997-1998 conference president and a mixed practitioner in
Lebanon, Mo, said, "The two overriding principles on which the organization is
based are, first and foremost, the safety of the horse, and second, an even
playing field so that the outcome of competition is based primarily on objective
performance instead of secondarily on subjective judgment."
welfare concerns do not always stem from man-made situations. Disasters can be
man-made or natural.
Dr. John E. Madigan, professor of medicine
and epidemiology, University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine,
is an equine clinician, associate director of the large animal clinic for the
veterinary teaching hospital, and head of the UC-Davis Veterinary Emergency
Response Team. Dr. Madigan was part of the immense rescue effort after Hurricane
Floyd in 1999.
"Planning for a disaster is often an
overlooked aspect of a busy equine practice," Dr. Madigan said. "Key components
of a [plan] include identifying possible animal housing, feed and water
supplies, sources of tack and animal housekeeping materials, and means of mass
transport during evacuations."
As we enter the 21st century, changing
societal concerns about animals will continue to evolve our ethic for animals.
For city dwellers, carriage horses are one
personification of equine welfare concerns. "Carriage horses are highly visible
ambassadors," said Dr. Jay G. Merriam, carriage horse operation inspector and
member of the American Driving Society. To many people, the ethical treatment of
carriage horses will override the quaintness of seeing a horse and carriage in a
city environment, Dr. Merriam said.
"Though these social concerns are certainly
issues of great emotion," Dr. Rollin said, "underlying them is a new ethic for
animals, rationally articulatable [sic] and defensible, and emerging inevitably
from changes in animal use, changes in social demography and culture, and
deducible from the Platonic principle that ethics proceeds inevitably from
Trisha I. Korioth