PhD: translating scientific evidence into high-welfare horse care.

Equine laminitis is a painful, debilitating foot disease with a complex, multifactorial aetiology, which presents a considerable welfare problem for affected animals, often necessitating prolonged treatment or euthanasia. A number of husbandry-related modifiable risk factors have been identified, including rapid weight gain, recent box rest, increasing time since last worming treatment and recent introduction to grazing, as well as protective effects associated with supplement feeding. However, no research has yet been conducted to investigate whether or how such research evidence translates into changes in horse care and hence improvements in horse welfare.

This study will employ a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, along with a systems thinking approach, to investigate this issue from horse carers’ (owners, farriers and veterinarians) perspectives. Using laminitis as an exemplar for other important equine welfare issues, the PhD student will investigate horse carers’ awareness of scientific evidence for modifiable risk factors and determine whether or how this evidence influences the care they provide. S/he will investigate preferred sources of information and use a modified capture-recapture analysis technique to identify the optimal combination of communication routes or sources of research information for each carer popuation. S/he will identify and seek to understand underlying factors acting as barriers or drivers to the acceptance of research evidence and adoption of new practices, including attitudinal, behavioural, technical and cultural factors that influence carers’ decision-making processes. This will allow identification of key points within this complex system to target for feasible change. The ultimate aim is to improve horse welfare through optimised communication and information exchange between researchers and horse carers and the promotion of evidence-based horse care practices.

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