A riding school owner often takes horses off-property to shows where they are ridden by students. On show days, the owner gives the horses an injection because it “settles them down” for the inexperienced riders.
The median ranking for this scenario was 3, with a range of 1 to 5.
From a strictly welfare perspective, some respondents pointed out that a sedated horse may be more likely to stumble or fall and injure himself. The waters become muddied, however, when human safety was considered.
“Some of the responses said that if the rider was safer on a sedated horse this practice was acceptable,” says DuBois. “On the other hand, some participants indicated that the horse might trip if sedated, making the rider unsafe. We saw both possibilities represented in the responses.”
Within the explanations for the ranking of this scenario, there was some indication that individuals who were familiar with these practices did not rank them as high as participants who were unfamiliar with them. “This type of bias has been documented by other researchers,” says DuBois. “Individuals are often more critical of foreign practices, whereas familiar practices are met with less resistance.”
Heartbreaking images of starved horses seized by authorities illustrate the very worst welfare cases. Such cases are easy to identify and confront. Far more common, however, are more nuanced situations where questions of welfare are not clear-cut. A good place for each of us to start is reflecting on our own reactions to various horsekeeping situations and recognizing what may be shaping our positions. From there we can join the conversation.