PHOTO: Professor Natalie Waran talks online to ESNZ from her home in the Hawke’s Bay.

New Zealand public care deeply for their horses, so much so, that the country has had a significant role in developing guidelines and legislation on horse welfare that is being adopted around the world.  That’s according to Professor Natalie Waran, internationally recognised animal behaviour and welfare scientist now living in the Hawke’ Bay.  ESNZ spoke at length with Professor Waran who told us how New Zealand is standing tall on horse welfare, as she prepares for the first International Society of Equitation Science conference to be held in New Zealand, in Cambridge from 14-16 March.  Here is what she said:

“We’ve got a big horse culture in New Zealand. And we’re also, for the most part, really privileged to be able to own horses. It’s extremely expensive to own a horse in any case, but it’s even more expensive if you have to keep them stabled and fed over winter in some of the cooler climates in the northern hemisphere particularly. If you think about what horses need – some freedom to move around and to be able to behave naturally – then being able to keep them in our kind of wonderful green lands is probably giving them a better life than a horse that’s spending 23 hours of its life in a stable and then the other hour obviously being trained or performing.

Five Domains

So yes, we are able to give our horses a good life. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody does do that, we know that; but I think that people are open to being educated about what horses need.  And we’ve got some fantastic researchers here in New Zealand that have really influenced the way that we talk about animal welfare.

For example, the five domains framework [nutrition, environment, health, behavioural interactions, mental state] that has been adopted by the racing industry from New Zealand researchers, has now been shared around the world and is really setting the standard for how we should be thinking about animal welfare.

Acts of Parliament

New Zealand has always been ahead of the game. We developed the 1999 Animal Welfare Act with all of the underpinning welfare codes.  That Act was seen as groundbreaking at its time and has led the way for other animal welfare legislation to be developed along similar lines.

Our Animal Welfare Act was the first to introduce what’s called a ‘duty of care’ approach. So rather than waiting for an animal to suffer and to show extreme suffering before somebody could be prosecuted, our laws are about ensuring that everybody knows what is required of you – as the animal’s owner or the guardian – in terms of the resources that the animal needs for its welfare.

So, you know, a duty of care involves making sure that they have the access to food and water, space, companionship, shelter and so on. So it’s a very kind of proactive form of legislation.

It’s actually quite important that people know that we have been the leaders particularly in setting higher standards of welfare legislation, and we’re able to provide higher standards of welfare for animals in New Zealand.

Showcasing the Equine Industry

The ISES conference coming to New Zealand and being based in Australasia around ‘a good life for horses’ is a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to showcase through the practical day what we do within our equine industry.

I think it’s really important, because there’s an awful lot of information that can be absorbed by all the equestrians and equine businesses in New Zealand.  But equally, there’s an awful lot that we can share with our international guests and people who choose to come and learn, at a conference that is based around the practices that we already have which are of a good standard.

So not only have we got the plenary sessions that have all been sponsored by different organisations, and right the way through from world breeding organisations to some transport organisations, but they’ll also get to hear some of the research talks as well.

The research presentations will be setting the scene, the big picture, and then some of the latest research will be given by researchers who’ve come to New Zealand just to talk for a short amount of time about what they’ve learned.

FEI’s 30 recommendations

So it’s all contributing to that bigger picture about being able to provide for a good life for horses. And the FEI will have some people who work on their technical committees who will be coming to New Zealand as well.  There are also some eminent veterinarians that will be joining us.

And all of that really feeds into what’s happening with the FEI’s plan of action that they’re developing at the moment, as a result of the 30 recommendations and the final report that was given to them by the Equine Ethics and Wellbeing Commission.

The results of the planning will be discussed at the Sports Forum with the FEI with all their different stakeholders in April in Switzerland. And there was also a number of recommendations that were made in the lead up to Paris [Olympics] as well.

The ISES Conference

We’re really excited by how much support we’ve had for the conference and in how many registrations we’ve had. So, we’re almost at 150 people on the ground coming from different countries around the world and who will descend upon the Waikato for a week of conferencing and workshops. The conference is for three days, and Day Tickets are available for people who want to come to the presentations on the Thursday 14 and Saturday 16 March.

Also, before the conference, there will be two equine workshops, both of which have been almost over-subscribed. One is an equine pain workshop, and the other is a workshop that is looking at equine emotions.  It’s part of a research project that will be using AI to try to help us to better understand the emotional world of the horse when it’s performing.

So those are all really exciting things that are happening. I think the most important piece of this is our sponsors.  And none of these events – particularly in a country like New Zealand – can go ahead without the support of our major sponsors.

The sponsors that have come on board are from across the whole equestrian industry, right the way from World Horse Welfare to our own New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Association and local companies.

And we also have been really pleased that we’ve got the sponsorship of the FEI as our AV sponsors. And because of their sponsorship, we have now been able to look at live-streaming the event. The live-stream will enable people from all around the world to register and then be sent a link that they will be able to use to watch, observe and hear all of the talks and the discussions that take place. Unfortunately, they will only have that for days one and days three, which are the presentation days, because it’s going to be too difficult for us to record what goes on during the practical day.   See the Humanitics site as that will link them into the live show when it happens.  All of the plenaries, the major talks, will be recorded and they will be made available through the International Society for Equitation Sciences website as part of ‘This Is What Happened to the Conference’.”