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We can impact equine welfare by our behaviour

July 15, 2019 | by Bryana Bou-Zaid and Isabelle D`Costa, BBRM Equine Management students

[Human behaviour change] is of huge significance as almost two thirds of horses euthanized are not euthanized for physiological health issues, but for behaviour issues

While we can’t always control how our horses act, we can control how we behave – thereby also improving equine welfare. Regardless of discipline, one thing that all horse enthusiasts have in common is the desire to improve equine welfare, and at this year’s International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) conference, attendees will hear keynote speaker Dr. Nicolas de Brauwere sharing his insight on how we as a community can turn this desire into an actuality for the horses in our care. In particular, he will focus on how human behaviour change can result in improved welfare for our equine companions. This is of huge significance as almost two thirds of horses euthanized are not euthanized for physiological health issues, but for behaviour issues. This is an absurd amount of wastage, and changes need to be made in an effort to reduce this.

nic2Dr. Nicolas de Brauwere is a well-known animal welfare professional who graduated from Onderstepoort Veterinary School in South Africa in 1991. He joined Redwings Horse Sanctuary 28 years ago as in-house vet to provide clinical care and herd health to the resident equines and since 2002 heads the Welfare and Behaviour team. Redwings provides lifelong care for horses, ponies, donkeys and mules who have experienced mistreatment and neglect. As the head of Welfare and Behaviour at Redwings, Dr. de Brauwere works with his team to rescue feral, unhandled and mistreated horses as well as supporting individual and large scale rescues alongside the RSPCA and other charities. Dr. de Brauwere’s passion and focus supported the implementation of a behaviour program in handling and rehabilitation of feral, unhandled and mistreated horses at Redwings. He is particularly interested in theoretical and practical aspects of working with these equids and hopes to find solutions to their problems by starting at the source. As we integrate science into how we handle horses, and with Dr. Nic de Brauwere’s insights into human behaviour change we can understand how our human behaviour can affect the animals and make conscious changes to provide a better environment for them.

Dr de Brauwere was appointed chairman of the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) in the UK in 2009, an umbrella organization for accredited equine rescues and sanctuaries. He believes that with his platform on the NEWC he is able to provide equine charities and other organizations the tools and ideas to make a change in equine welfare now and for future generations. Key to this is a better understanding of the people behind the welfare problems as well as those working for the Rescues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith his active role at the Redwings sanctuary, Dr. de Brauwere believes his team’s experience gained through the rehabilitation of mistreated horses already wary by instinct and their own bad experiences, has taught them more about equine behaviour and training than working with tame horses.

Rescue organizations have the animal’s benefit in mind, but how can we improve their welfare when they often require veterinary procedures that of themselves can be distressing to a fearful or feral equine, while reducing their stress from the second these animals come into contact with humans? With no doubt the answer lies in better understanding and application of equine behaviour and evidence-based handling and training methods. Perhaps most importantly, rescue organisations should ensure their staff have a keen observation of the signals the horses give off to show whether they are coping with the handling and procedure, and adjust the procedure to each individual.


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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