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How owners determine if the social and behavioral needs of their horses are being met: Findings from an Australian online survey

Thompson, Kirrilly, Clarkson, Larissa
Journal of veterinary behavior 2018
behavior change, decision making, horses, humans, marketing strategies, pastures, social marketing, surveys, Australia
Horse owners and carers are responsible for judging the health and welfare status of animals in their care, deciding if and when professional advice should be sought and following any recommendations for treatment. However, little is known about how horse owners perceive and determine the well-being of horses in their care, or the themes that inform their beliefs about the social and behavioural requirements of horses. In this article, we present findings of an online survey of horse owners in Australia to consider if horse owners and carers believe the horses in their care have their social and behavioural needs met, how they know, and what improvements they would like to see. Most participants believed that their horses had their social and behavioural needs met, mostly because they had company from another horse, lived in a paddock situation, and/or had contact with another horse. When discussing the improvements they would like to make, participants noted more company, increased paddock time and size, and more/improved training. The extended free-text responses suggest that four themes impact the beliefs and decision-making of horse owners/carers: work, outings, interaction, and nature. We discuss these in relation to the potential for anthropomorphism to have a positive impact on horses’ well-being, when integrated into a sophisticated behaviour change and social marketing strategy that communicates the ways in which horses and humans are different and the ways in which they are alike.