What is Welfare? A Qualitative Study in the Dutch Equestrian Community
Belle, Frances Le
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Introduction: Horse welfare is an important topic in the Netherlands, mirroring horses’ significance in sports, recreation, and therapy. Despite numerous academic courses and equestrian bodies offering equine education, a knowledge gap persists, often attributed to the absence of comprehensive welfare education for non-academic horse enthusiasts. To address this, the Stichting Rijvaardigheidsbewijzen Ruiter en menner (SRR) has commissioned an equine welfare certificate, the PaardenWelzijnsBewijs (PWB), aiming to impart fundamental knowledge for safeguarding equine welfare. While existing literature broadly captures equine welfare concerns, research focused on Dutch horse enthusiasts is sparse. This thesis employs qualitative methods to identify what horse enthusiasts in the Netherlands consider essential for equine welfare. Methods: A digital survey comprising open questions on equine husbandry, riding, and handling was disseminated via social media and the SRR network. Survey data were analysed qualitatively using thematic coding and quantitatively using Chi-squared tests. Results/discussion: The survey received 875 complete responses, resulting in a 74.0% completion rate (875/1181). The majority of respondents were female (85.9%) and fell within the age groups of 35-44 (23.4%) or 45-54 (28.7%). Thematic analysis led to the identification of three major themes: Equine Husbandry, Human-Horse Interaction, and Equitation. Equine Husbandry was more frequently mentioned, suggesting its importance over training or interaction aspects to horse enthusiasts. Within this broad theme, subthemes like the ability to perform natural behaviour and feeding were most prominent. On the theme of Human-Horse Interaction, respondents highlighted the importance of understanding horse behaviour and human-horse communication to ensure their welfare, as well as ethical considerations for treating horses as sentient beings deserving respect. On the theme of Equitation, training of the rider and of the horse were mentioned most frequently, as well as knowledge of tack and equipment. Respondents emphasised the importance of qualified instruction on subjects of horse care and welfare. Quantitative analysis revealed significant differences across the variables of gender, age, and type of involvement with various subthemes related to horse husbandry, interaction, and training. Women and younger age groups were more likely to discuss the subthemes natural behaviour, feeding, and training of the horse. Conclusion and implications: This study revealed three main areas of interest to Dutch horse enthusiasts regarding equine welfare: Equine Husbandry, Human-Horse Interaction, and Equitation, with the greatest emphasis on husbandry practices. Despite evident awareness of a wide variety of welfare aspects among equestrians, a gap between knowledge and practice persists, pointing to the need for research to facilitate better application of welfare principles. The insights in this study can be used to further research into horse enthusiasts’ behaviour concerning equine welfare.