Youth Perceptions of Equine Welfare Among Common Horse-Human Interactions
Animal welfare studies have explored various topics such as general care and management, human perceptions and factors associated with welfare. These studies however consistently utilize adult populations. The equine industry embodies a large number of youth members and the principles they establish as adolescents regarding specific equine activities and care and management practices are likely to carry forward through their adult lives. To move forward and enhance welfare practices, it is essential to understand youth perceptions and viewpoints towards all populations working with horses; therefore this study was conducted to explore the perceptions and awareness levels of youth towards the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare. The Freedom of Fear and Distress was specifically investigated to determine the effect human impact has on equine through a diverse set of selected horse-human interactions. The population for this study were youth members that were a part of the Indiana 4-H Horse and Pony project from nine counties (n=85). Quantitative data was collected using a questionnaire that was presented at the beginning of an educational program. Items relating to the importance of common care and management interactions, and informational seeking behaviors of those interactions were acquired from previously validated instruments. Further items used selected videos from numerous public video sharing websites and a five point Likert scale measuring the level of distress each horse encountered was not distressed, slightly distressed, somewhat distressed, moderately distressed or very distressed. Selected videos were reviewed and validated by a panel of six adults with differing equine experience to determine which videos would be used within the final instrument. Final video items were chosen based on the consistency of evaluation of distress levels of each horse presented by the panelist and demonstration of a range of levels of distress. Reliability of the instrument was tested for all questions and found to be highly reliable (α= 0.868). This study concluded there was no evidence of previous education in terms of the Five Freedoms or specifically the Freedom from Fear and Distress. While it was observed that members were familiar with concepts discussed, the terminology was different. Participants tended to have more concerns regarding horse-human interactions seen outside of their self-identified disciplines than within their own. Demographic factors such as gender, how they were raised and what they did (attended shows to compete vs. to watch) were associated with youth perceptions. This study also found that Indiana 4-H Youth members in the Horse and Pony project would rather seek information from people (family member, trainer or 4-H volunteer) rather than utilizing technology (YouTube, Search engines, Social Media, etc.) Future recommendations include promoting targeted educational programming and research to improve welfare practices for the next generation of the equine industry.
Brady, Purdue University.
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