OPTIONS FOR IMPROVING THE DAY-TO-DAY MANAGEMENT AND HUSBANDRY OF HORSES IN THE NETHERLANDS
Woude, Trix van der
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To improve the welfare status of horses in the Netherlands, it is useful and important to learn more about their day-to-day activities in relation to owners’ attitudes, opinions and possibilities. Therefore, the purpose of the current study is to give an insight in the day-to-day management and husbandry of an average horse in the Netherlands and to describe the options for improving this management and husbandry, with a focus on free movement and social contact. Besides describing the options for improvement, this study will investigate whether horse owners’ practices correspond with their opinions on the influence of free movement and contact with conspecifics on the welfare of horses. An online survey was prepared and made accessible for Dutch horse owners, which resulted in 3774 complete responses in a period of almost 2 months in 2021. Together, the respondents were responsible for 3.6% of the Dutch horse population. 40 respondents were selected for a follow-up interview. 80% of the respondents was satisfied with the amount of movement they gave their horses. Owners keeping their horses at paddock paradises or nature reserves were most satisfied. Least satisfied were owners keeping their horses at riding schools. When the respondents gave their horses a higher amount of free movement, their satisfaction increased. Owners keeping their horses individually chose “strongly agree” less frequently than owners keeping their horses in groups on the statements regarding contact with conspecifics. When focusing on the statements regarding free movement, owners giving no free movement chose the option “strongly agree” less frequently than owners who gave their horses 22 – 24 hours/day of free movement. From the interviews became clear that 15/40 respondents gave their horses free movement individually, this was mostly due to owners being afraid of their horses getting injured when given free movement with conspecifics. Of the 31/40 respondents, that did not give their horses free movement for 24 hours a day, most mentioned as reasons “the weather is not good enough” and “horses get bored and/or restless”. Of the 32/40 respondents, that did not keep their horses on pasture permanently, most mentioned that it was due to not having enough grass or the pastures being too wet. Improvement can be made by transferring more scientific knowledge to owners of horses, for example by their veterinarian. For future research it would be interesting to investigate how horses are kept earlier in life and explore which improvements can be made at the onset of horses’ social life.