Sharing a snapshot of your horse’s health can help boost equine welfare in the UK, says Carolyn Henderson
This week, you can make a vital contribution to equine health and welfare in the UK. It costs nothing, but the benefits are priceless, and it will take you five minutes.
All you have to do is fill in a survey. It isn’t the sort that tells you what your name would be if you were a unicorn, nor the kind which supposedly tells you what sort of horse you’d be by analysing your personality traits.
They might be fun, but this one – the National Equine Health Survey – really matters. Run by Blue Cross in conjunction with the British Equine Veterinary Association, it’s the only survey that gives a snapshot of general equine health in the UK. This enables vets and researchers to understand what’s happening now, and plan how they can continue to improve health and welfare.
It also helps us, as “ordinary owners”, to check that we’re doing the right things for our animals and to be aware of risk areas. This applies as much to those of us who have had horses for donkeys’ years as to first-timers.
It’s frighteningly easy to fall into the trap of following a practice because you’ve always done it that way. While the premise of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” may apply in some scenarios, it can also cause lasting damage.
For instance, minimising resistance to wormers is a problem across the whole animal health industry. Perhaps inevitably, its importance has been overshadowed by the fight to minimise resistance against antibiotics, but it’s something we as horse owners must be aware of.
Years ago, best practice was considered to be worming every horse every six to eight weeks. Now, we know that we should get faecal worm egg counts carried out every eight to 12 weeks from around March to October and treat horses according to the results, while always carrying out targeted worming against species such as encysted redworm.
FWECs are simple to arrange and in many scenarios, turn out to be cheaper than indiscriminate worming. Yet last year’s NEHS showed that a third of respondents didn’t carry them out, and of those that did, only a quarter of them did so at the correct intervals.
The survey highlights misconceptions and pinpoints where education should be targeted.
Its results are used as primary source material by researchers. For example, it’s played an important role in tracking the rise and prevalence of atypical myopathy, a disease which is often fatal, in the UK. Greater awareness leads to focused prevention and treatment, thus saving lives.
Last year, more than 5000 people took part, from one-horse owners to London’s Metropolitan police mounted branch, pictured here by Blue Cross.
So between 21st and 28th May, can all we “ordinary owners” take five minutes out of a day to complete this survey? That really would be extraordinary – see www.bluecross.org.uk/nehs and your horse, and thousands of others, will thank you for it.