Research on Welfare of Working Equines

A client has accepted our bid for a project that includes some work for the ponies.  I am of course thrilled because I always love taking the ponies to work with me off the farm.  I also smile with some irony because we are usually working where there are no people, so we don’t qualify for points in any performance awards scheme!

I’m thankful to work in isolation, actually, because I don’t have to endure the scrutiny that, for instance, the carriage horses and their teamster/drivers in New York City are subjected to.  The controversy there about whether horses should be ‘forced’ to work in ‘inhumane’ conditions is never far from my mind because I could be considered to be ‘forcing’ my ponies to also work in ‘inhumane’ conditions, which is of course something I would never do.

My perspective is obviously quite different from the people who have caused the New York carriage horse industry such problems.  I actually think my ponies prefer working than standing around.  I judge this by their willingness and sometimes even enthusiasm to do what I ask. In addition I’ve worked with them enough to know the difference between willingness, refusal, lack of understanding, and fear.  I often wonder whether the people who are against carriage horses working in New York City understand that equines are capable of giving these different responses and that teamster/drivers are capable of understanding this information.

Research on New York City carriage horses conducted by Western University of Health Sciences in 2015 lends support to my belief that my ponies prefer work.  The researchers took physiological measurements of horses at work and outside the city on furlough.  The measurements allowed the researchers to assess the level of stress in the horses at work compared to at rest.  They concluded, “these working NYC carriage horses did not have physiologic responses indicative of a negative welfare status.” (1)

I know that people will continue to be concerned about the humaneness of putting equines to work.  It was certainly this concern that in part led to the acceptance of the automobile a century ago.  And people should be concerned, as long as they’re fair, since it keeps teamster/drivers honest.  My responsibility is the same as any teamsters’:  to watch for what my ponies are telling me about the work we are doing and make adjustments so that they continue to prefer working to anything else.  It’s been a privilege so far to work with them and know that this is indeed possible.

  1. “Reassuring Study of Carriage Horses,” Equus #475, April 2017, p. 25.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More about the privilege of working ponies can be found in my book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover image.

About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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