Hausberger, M., Lesimple, C., Henry, S. 2021. Detecting welfare in a non-verbal species: Social/cultural biases and difficulties in horse welfare assessment. Animals 11(8), 2249.
Horses were domesticated for more than 5000 years and have been one of the most emblematic species living alongside humans. This long-shared history would suggest that horses are well known and well understood, but scientific data raise many concerns about the welfare state of most domestic horses suggesting that many aspects have been largely misunderstood. In the present review, we will examine some of the possible human factors that may explain the huge prevalence of welfare problems, despite horses being of special importance to humans. First of all, as horses are non-verbal, current management practices rely upon what one thinks is good for them, which opens the way to subjective interpretations and projections, based on one’s own subjective experience but probably still more on cultural/social norms and influences, traditions and beliefs. The lack of recognition, identification, or even the misinterpretation of signals are other potential reasons for welfare issues. Lastly, the over-exposure to animals with expressions of compromised welfare may lead to lower sensitivity of owners/professionals. That is why we lastly suggest that instead of simply providing information on what to do, we should promote validated visible indicators that leave less room for personal interpretation.