Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach

Edited by Dr. Temple Grandin
Colorado State University, USA

ISBN: 978-1-84593-541-2
c. 336 pages
131 figures/illustrations

Subject Classifcation: KNAC, PSVP, TVH, TW
Territorial Market Rights: World
Published by CABI

Links for ordering:


Chapter 13: Practial methods for improving the welfare of horses, donkeys, and other working draught animals in developing areas.

by Camie R. Helsinki, Amy K. McLean, and Janice C. Swanson, Michigan State University, USA
The welfare of working draft animals can be greatly improved with simple improvements such as providing plenty of water and fitting the harness correctly. The first author has worked extensively in many developing countries. This chapter has 28 pictures which show correct and incorrect harnesses, scoring body condition, and types of harness sores.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 13...

I have spent the majority of my academic career as Coordinator of the Michigan State University (MSU) Horse Management Program. Among my primary goals has been to teach students strategies to optimally manage horses to: maximize competitive performance; enhance diet formulation; optimize profitability; enhance breeding programs; and select horses based largely on aesthetic parameters.

What a rude awakening for me to become passionately involved with the welfare of working horses and donkeys beginning in 2000 with my first of three trips to Brazil. I now think in terms of what are five to 15 essential things these owners can do to enhance the welfare of their animals. Realizing that in enhancing the welfare of their carthorse or donkey, they, in turn, enhance the well-being of their family (Starkey, 1997; Kitalyi et al., 2005).

Instead of worrying about amino acid profiles to enhance the growth of young stock, I try to teach owners of working equids the importance of letting their animal graze or forage whenever it is not actively working; instead of worrying about choosing the perfectly shaped dressage girth so as to not pinch a horse behind its elbows, I encourage people to provide enough clean padding on harnesses so the animals do not have to work with open sores; instead of trying to train a student how to perform a ridden maneuver with the slightest of leg pressure, I encourage owners not to beat their animals with sticks or whips; and rather than focusing on how to optimally wrap an injury to minimize scarring, I simply try to ensure the working equid owner knows that packing a wound with traditional ‘medicines’ such as mud or manure or diesel fuel will only contribute to infection.

Most of the owners/handlers of these horses, donkeys and mules are not intentionally cruel; rather they live in suboptimal environments and equine husbandry information and outreach are rare commodities. In some cases, it is the limitation of their financial resources that prevents them firm doing more for their animals, hut in many cases, it is simply a lack of knowledge on their parts.

If you are a professional/paraprofessional working in a developing part of the world, your work is to be commended. You are serving a very important purpose and one that will greatly improve the welfare of many animals. The suggestions that follow arc designed to involve minimal financial inputs. We hope to bring about a transition in the husbandry of working equids from reactive health care (treating wounds or rehabilitating animals too ill or undernourished to continue working) to proactive husbandry so that animals can work more productively, have enhanced longevity and well-being. This, in turn, contributes to the wellbeing of families who depend on these animals and, as we have seen first hand, contributes to the pride they have in their working animals.

Table 13.1. Harness padding and repair materials to help prevent sores and lesions.
Good materials Bad materials Cleaning tips for harnesses
Cotton canvas
Soft leather
Sheep skins
Woven wool blanket
Foam padding
Twine or string for quick repairs
Woven plastic bags — the WORST material
Lightweight cloth that wrinkles and forms ridges that rub
Polyethylene sheets — these are too hot
Inner tube rubber — this is too hot
Wire for quick repairs — wire should never come in contact with the animal
Scrape off crusted dirt and sweat
Pick debris out of woven wool
Replace foam monthly, if possible
Use soap and water to clean but ensure animal contact surfaces are allowed to dry completely before using
If saddle soap or oil for leather is available, it should be used to keep leather soft

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Click here to return to the Improving Animal Welfare Table of Contents page and read other chapter excerpts.