Mutual respect and good equine citizens: giving horses the best start in life

  • The publication of guidance aimed to give young horses the best possible start in life is part of work to ensure optimal equine health and wellbeing – and help ensure the future of our sport.

    This is the belief of the British Horse Foundation (BHF), which has released its Better Beginnings Practice Guide, “from inception to two years old”, which challenges readers: “Are you willing to turn the microscope on your own breeding practices?”

    H&H reported last year that the BHF had held a conference, at which industry experts spoke and discussed best practice throughout the breeding process (news, 20 October 2022).

    As well as the agreement that teamwork and improved education are key to providing the best start, which means producing adult horses more likely to be sound, healthy, happy and fit for purpose, the outcome of the conference was that the guide should be produced.

    From information shared at the meeting and a follow-up webinar last December, these first guidance notes have been produced.

    “Changing long-held practices and beliefs and even changing the way we look at what we do is difficult,” said BHF chair Jane Nixon. “But where we can make small changes that will improve the lives and wellbeing of our equine partners, it’s up to us to do everything we can.”

    Dr Nixon told H&H that the guidance is the result of “a lot of hard work from a lot of people”.

    “The original idea of the importance of the baby horse came from the Futurity [youngstock evaluations],” she said. “It was becoming increasingly obvious that problems in the older horse are related to poor production in the young horse. Now we have the opportunity to concentrate on this and bring it into the public domain.”

    The online guidance features videos and links to external websites and research, starting with the decision to breed, from the choice of mares and stallions to weaning and beyond. As well as benefiting horses, the aim is to help maintain public acceptance of equestrian sport, by setting horses up from the start to have good lives.

    “It’s about mutual respect and horses who are good citizens,” Dr Nixon said. “We have a duty of care to these animals.”

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