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Working Towards a Better Understanding of Equine Welfare at the Farm Level

July 1, 2019 | by Samantha White and Sophia Newhook, BBRM Equine Management students; edited by Cordy DuBois

What do we mean by “good welfare” when we talk about horses?

As the body of scientific literature grows on the topic of equine welfare, so to does the desire to apply what we know beyond an experimental setting in an effort to better understand the well-being of horses on an industry-wide scale. But what do we mean by “good welfare” when we talk about horses? And what is the best way to measure this impartially and reliably?

These questions, and many more, were what served as the impetus for Dr. Cordy DuBois’ PhD research, which sought to investigate the potential of bringing an on-farm welfare assessment – a practice more commonly seen in the food livestock industry – to the Canadian equine industry. The diversity of farm infrastructure, management styles, and horse usage within the Canadian equine industry offered a plethora of challenges for conducting this type of project, as did horse farm owners’ unfamiliarity with the assessment process. All of these factors played an important role in the creation of the assessment tool, which had to be finely balanced between objectivity and practicality.

Explore the process of developing this tool at a workshop offered by Dr. DuBois and Dr. Katrina Merkies on August 21st at the International Equitation Science Conference Practical Day. Here, participants will have the opportunity to learn about the Canadian standards of care, outlined in the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines, as well how to navigate the challenges of turning scientific research into on-farm measures. Follow DuBois and Merkies on a journey examining what worked and what didn’t, and even spend some time testing your own reliability with some animal-based measures!

cordy photo (1)DuBois is a recent graduate of the University of Guelph who dedicated both her Masters and PhD to better understanding and measuring equine welfare. In addition to her thirteen years of experience in the equine industry, she also has an online Equine Studies diploma through Equine Guelph and received full certification from Colorado State University and Code 3 Associate’s Equine Investigations Academy (a program designed to assist animal law enforcement offers in the handling and evaluation of horses on-farm). She has presented nationally and internationally on the findings of her PhD project to scientists and lay audiences alike.

mary profile photoDr. Katrina Merkies is a leader in equine research – specifically, welfare, behaviour, equitation and management – focusing on how horses interact with humans. Dr. Merkies, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, was DuBois’ advisor through her graduate studies. Outside of her academic career, Merkies is also a level 2 dressage coach in Canada and is a board member of both the International Society for Equitation Science and the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada.


Don’t miss this demonstration along with an engaging lineup of high calibre presentations. Registration is now open for the 15th annual ISES conference. For all the details and links to registration and accommodations, visit the Equitation Science website or the Horse Portal.


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