WelfareBack to Stable Stress







1. Definition of welfare


Physical health and mental health

The welfare of an animal is its capacity to avoid suffering and sustain fitness. Broom (1991) defined “welfare” as referring to the state of the individual in relation to its environment, which can be measured.  Measurements of welfare should be based, not on the presence or absence of indicators of reduced biological function, (which, in evolutionary terms, could be considered primary), but on the animal’s feelings or emotions (Duncan 1996).  There is a need to define welfare not only for our personal understanding, but also for scientific study and legislation.

 Behaviour is one of the most easily observed indicators of welfare: it provides information about animals’ needs, preferences and internal states.  The study of normal behaviour can tell us what animals do when frightened, frustrated, distressed, ill, or in pain, as well as when they have abundant resources and are free from perdition.  No one set of behavioural responses can indicate reduced welfare, though changes in the frequencies of individual and social behaviours or suppression of behaviour can do so.

Needs responses and welfare

An environment is appropriate if it allows the animal to satisfy its needs, such as needs for a particular resource, or needs to carry out actions whose function is to obtain an objective (Toates and Jensen 1991, Broom 1996).  These needs can be identified by studies of motivation and by assessing the welfare of individuals whose needs are not satisfied (Hughes and Duncan 1988a,b, Dawkins 1990, Broom and Johnson 1993).  Unsatisfied needs are often, but not always, associated with bad feelings whilst satisfied needs may be associated with good feelings, all feelings being part of biological control mechanisms (Broom 1996).

 The interpretation of measurements of the responses of an animal to variations in its environment should involve a range of indicators of welfare (Broom 1997).  Single behavioural measurements can give some valid information but combinations of measures, for example those of behaviour, physiology, injury, disease and growth, are more likely to allow a true assessment of welfare (Smidt 1983, Broom 1988).  Is a response a single measure of behaviour, a set of measures of behaviour or a comprehensive range of behaviours (Broom 1997)?  If welfare is to be a usable scientific concept it should be considered to vary over a range of “good” to “very poor” and hence many aspects of welfare are relative (Broom 1997).


Costs and benefits in relation to welfare

Any improvement in welfare is worthwhile to an individual animal whose welfare is very poor, and is also worthwhile, morally, to people involved in animals.  However improving animal welfare is not just a matter of money but can also be expressed in terms of human time, energy or social costs (Broom 1994).  Optimal environments may not be financially attainable but they do exist.


The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms were originally produced by the Brambell Committee in 1965 and were “An animal should have the freedom to stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs”.  The Agricultural Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1968 outlined suffering that it described as “unnecessary pain or distress”.  In 1979 the Farm Animal Welfare Council was formed and changed the 5 freedoms to:

1.    Freedom from thirst hunger or malnutrition – achieved by readily accessible fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour

2.    Appropriate comfort and shelter

3.    Freedom from injury and disease – achieved by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment

4.    Freedom of movement and the opportunity to express most normal patterns of behaviour

5.    Freedom from fear



The key to identifying an appropriate environment for animals is the use of an adequate range of indicators of welfare rather than simple responses.  Studies of motivation in animals give information about the needs of the animal, as do studies of welfare in animals whose needs are not satisfied.  When welfare improvement is related to costs a full range of costs rather than just immediate monetary costs should be used.

There is a trend in public concern about the welfare of animals including horses.  Veterinarians are the experts on disease and injury and they have to decide whether an animal is suffering from pain or discomfort or distress.  There always seems to be difficulty in deciding on the standards of behaviour that vets use in assessing suffering animals. There is a need for clinical-behavioural research, which clearly describes the signs to identify and quantifies pain, distress and discomfort.

Failures to cope with the environment and difficulty in coping are both indicators of poor welfare.  Suffering and poor welfare often occur together, but welfare can be poor without suffering and welfare should not be defined solely in terms of subjective experiences (Broom 1991).


2. Measures of Welfare

Broom and Johnson (1993) gave the following list as indicators of poor welfare:

Ø      Reduced life expectancy

Ø      Reduced ability to grow and breed

Ø      Body damage

Ø      Disease

Ø      Immunosuppression (Greater susceptibility to disease)

Ø      Physiological attempts to cope

Ø      Behavioural attempts to cope

Ø      Behavioural pathology

Ø      Behavioural anomalies (apathy or stereotypy)

Ø      Self narcotization

Ø      Extent behavioural aversion shown

Ø      Extent of suppression of normal behaviour

Ø      Extent to which normal physiological processes and anatomical development are prevented


Houghton-Brown (1997) included the following:

Ø      Failure to thrive

Ø      Evidence of frustration or reactive fear

Ø      Undue stress and distress

Ø      Unnecessary suffering

Ø      Unwarranted pain

Ø      Unacceptable quality of life


Broom and Johnson (1993) gave the following list as indicators of good welfare:

Ø      Variety of normal behaviours shown

Ø      Extent to which strongly preferred behaviours can be shown

Ø      Physiological indicators of pleasure

Ø      Behavioural indicators of pleasure


 Below is a diagram showing how the measurement of stereotypies can be of significance for welfare (taken from Broom and Johnson 1993).  

An example of this is that calves kept in outdoor yards where they could exercise had higher plasma creatine kinase levels than those kept in very small pens (Friend, Dellmeier and Gbour 1985).

Behaviour – stress, stereotypies,

Broom (1996) said that the welfare of an individual is its state as regards its attempt to cope with its environment (Duncan 1996).


Mental needs are always of secondary importance to providing an environment that will ensure good health and a normal physiological and physical state; i.e. the animal’s physical needs (Duncan and Petherick 1991).


3. Abuse

A neglected horse is easy to recognise with its overgrown hooves and its ribs showing but the most insidious forms of abuse leave no outward signs at all.  It is the abuse that is not meant to hurt or cause suffering, but does so through either ignorance or naiveté.  Abuse is tied up greatly with ethics, whether they are social, professional or personal.  In the last century the treatment of animals fell under the personal ethics of the owner/handler.  There was, if you like, a contract between the animal and human, with the human “fostering” the animal, protecting it in return for services.  With the boost in technology and sports science, animals are kept alive and performing in unnatural conditions.  In the 1960’s the government asked the Brambell Commission to study this situation and it concluded “It is not morally defensible to put animals in environments in which they are unable to live out their basic nature”. 


4. Welfare Charities


The majority of welfare charities are trying to change people’s perception of animals as a part of society.  They try to shift our view that animals are here for our benefit to thinking we must be of benefit to them and to shift debate from how much harm we should inflict to the more fundamental issues of how much good we should do.

The RSPCA recognise that horses, which are maintained for competition purposes, have to fulfil a specific training programme in order to achieve the desired standard of performance.  To minimise the risk of injury between training sessions these horses are often required to remain in their stables and may not have access to pasture throughout their working schedule.  Valuable horses kept for breeding proposes must also be carefully looked after and may remain stabled throughout the day.  The horse may be exposed to an excessive quantity of unfilled time, which can lead to stereotypies.

The objects of the Society are to promote kindness and prevent or suppress cruelty to animals (RSPCA Act 1932).  The general principle is that animals feel pain and experience distress and where there is doubt, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the animal.  The two particular policies, which are relevant to the issues in this project, are:


1.1.2        (and 6.2.1)  The RSPCA is opposed to any degree of confinement, which is likely to cause distress or suffering to the animal concerned.

3.1.1        The RSPCA is opposed to all forms of farming that causes distress or suffering, or deprive animals of the opportunity to indulge in their natural behaviour, and believes that farming practices should provide, as nearly as possible, natural lifestyles for the animals concerned.


The society sees the welfare of an animal as including its physical and mental state and considers that good animal welfare implies both fitness and sense of well being.  It also adopts the 5 Freedoms, which it sees as defining the ideal states that should be aimed for.  “Animals need to be kept in a way that is appropriate to the normal biological requirements of their species, in sufficient space, containing the necessary shelter, cover and environmental stimulus, so as not to cause distress or suffering”  (RSPCA Policies (1997)).


F.E.I. - Federation Equestre Internationale Code of Conduct

During the 1990 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm the FEI decided to issue a Code of Conduct for all the people involved in the welfare of competition horses, with a view to educating horse owners and the general public.  The ten statements cover the veterinary health, welfare and care of the competition horse but the two regarding care are stated below:


I.                    “The well being of the horse shall take precedence over the demands of all interested parties and commercial concerns.”

II.                 “The highest standards of nutrition, health, sanitation and safety shall be encouraged and maintained at all times.”


The first statement aims to protect horses where there is a temptation to use them in a way which is damaging to their health or comfort.  The second statement rules that provision of good quality feed and a clean, plentiful supply of water is mandatory and that stables should be of suitable proportions, well ventilated, hygienic and sanitary, with conditions carefully monitored to ensure minimal risk of infection or disease.



The equestrian organisations and charities aim to protect horses from abuse and misuse.  The stabling of horses, although not an abuse issue is arguably a welfare issue due to the owner’s misunderstanding.  The policies of the RSPCA, and the FEI codes of conduct both state that the horse’s well being should be paramount, and any degree of suffering should be eliminated. However it has been shown that horses in stables can be in distress, and that the whole reason horses are in stables are for the benefit of the owners not the horse.

Should the welfare charities be doing more to educate people that there are alternatives to stabling horses and that a horse showing a stereotypy is in distress?  It ought to be the responsibility of these bodies to educate people in the correct husbandry practices and stand up for what they believe to be right by their policies and Codes of Conduct.

Should they consider what they actually mean by “confinement” in policy 1.1.2?  The meaning is obvious when one considers veal crates and battery cages, but are they going to have to widen their view and realise that stables can cause horses just as much suffering as those calves and chickens endure?  Policy 3.1.1 covers farm animals and the law does not regard horses as farm animals, but horses should not be excluded from this protection just because they are recreational not production animals.