Taking no chances
A horse is put up for sale by his owner. In order to ensure that he doesn’t get “marked up” by his pasturemates, the horse is turned out alone in a paddock where he can see other horses but cannot interact with them, even over the fence.
The median (or “middle” value, used as a measure to gauge the most “typical” score) ranking of this situation by experts in the study was a 2, meaning that overall, they did not feel the level of isolation described in the vignette was particularly threatening to the horse’s welfare. Despite the fact that professionals indicated that a horse’s psychological health is an important part of his welfare, this scenario did not receive a score higher than 3.
However, the comments from the experts revealed how individual circumstances can alter an equation. This, and several other scenarios, highlighted the importance of knowing how a certain horse will react to the situation described. “While some horses may be used to solitary turnout, others are more ‘herd bound,’” says DuBois. “As a result, the separation from his herdmates may affect the welfare of one horse more than another.” Other respondents pointed out how a few days of psychological discomfort might be worth the benefits. “The feeling was that if being sold would improve the horse’s welfare, then the short-term isolation could help that happen faster, ultimately helping the horse,” she adds.
This vignette, says DuBois, illustrates how a welfare situation nearly everyone agrees on in principal can lead to different interpretations in realworld situations and when considering the needs of individual horses.