Attitudes of the equestrian public towards equine end-of-life decisions

by Catherine Bell and Suzanne Rogers
Equine Behaviour and Training Association, Godalming GU8 6AX, UK

A recent study indicated that welfare issues concerning emotional state or behaviour are at risk of being omitted from end-of-life decisions.


A key welfare concern for the equine population in the U.K. has been identified as delayed death, leading to prolonged suffering of horses. Reasons why some horse owners fail to have their horses euthanised include financial cost, emotional attachment, peer pressure, negative attitudes towards killing and poor recognition of behavioural indicators of equine pain and stress.

The Five Freedoms framework of welfare* was used to build a Likert-style survey to investigate the factors underlying attitudes of horse owners towards welfare measures in an end-of-life decision. Participants were asked to respond to hypothetical welfare scenarios and to give details of any horses they had had euthanised.

The survey was conducted predominantly via equestrian Facebook groups and obtained 160 participant responses. Reliability of the scale was acceptable, with Cronbach’s α=0.89. Principal Component Analysis was used to load the hypothetical scenarios onto seven factors containing 62.2% of the variance.

The first four factors could be categorized according to “Ethology-informed Management”, “Traditional Horse Management”, “Emotional Issues” and “Physical Issues”.

Participants were more likely to consider euthanasia for physical issues, compared with issues relating to affective state and/or ethology, although it was not clear whether this was due to disregard for welfare issues relating to mental health or failure to recognise them as such.

A large number of responses stated that the scenario had no bearing on whether a horse should be euthanised, again suggesting a lack of recognition of welfare issues and their implications. When asked to state their reasons for euthanising their horses, participants cited almost exclusively physical reasons, with the exception of those citing dangerous behaviour.

Only a small number of responses also included consideration of affective and/or ethological factors, suggesting that welfare issues concerning affective state and/or behaviour are at risk of omission from end-of-life decisions.

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This article is from the Special Issue, “Horse-Human Interactions and Their Implication for Equine Welfare“, via MDPI — Publisher of Open Access Journals

*The Five Freedoms are internationally accepted standards of care that affirm every living being’s right to humane treatment. These standards were developed by Britain’s Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1965 and adapted by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians for companion animals in shelters. 

The Five Freedoms outline five aspects of animal welfare under human control. The Five Freedoms ensure that we meet the mental and physical needs of animals in our care, i.e.

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst.
  • Freedom from Discomfort.
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease.
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behavior.
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress.

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NOTE: A concussive captive bolt gun should never be used as it is not an effective means of euthanasia for horses. See Is the captive bolt a humane death for horses?“, Tuesday’s Horse, Feb. 26, 2020.

Featured Image: © Paula da Silva/

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