Investigating how those responsible for the day to day care of animals understand the concept of animal welfare is an important step in the process of animal welfare improvement. For example, exploring how equine stakeholders talk about equine welfare may offer insight into how they interpret and utilise communications about welfare and how this may have an impact on the actual welfare of horses. In-depth interviews with 31 equine stakeholders in England and Wales were used to explore their perceptions and understanding of welfare. It was found that they understood the concept of welfare in four distinct ways. Firstly, welfare was understood in terms of the provision of resources, for example food and water. Secondly, a “horse-centred” understanding of welfare was articulated which included the horses’ mental state and linked to natural behaviour. Thirdly, the word welfare had negative connotations and for some good welfare was achieved through the avoidance of negative states. There was a tendency for interviewees to distance themselves from examples of “poor” welfare. Finally, interviewees discussed incidents that occurred in their own familiar contexts but suggested that these were not welfare problems or sought to justify or downplay them. There was little acknowledgement or reference to definitions of welfare as used by welfare scientists and incorporated into welfare legislation and codes of practice. There was evidence that the ways in which equine stakeholders understood the concept of welfare may have been acting as a barrier to the alleviation of some commonly occurring equine welfare problems. Consequently, there is a need for strategies aimed at improving equine welfare to consider stakeholder constructs of welfare and the ways in which these are generated and acted upon.
- defining welfare
- equine stakeholder