Horse welfare within Traveller/Gypsy communities; ethnic groups under-represented in horse welfare research
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date16/06/2023
Rowland, Marie Assumpta Olivia
Travellers/Gypsies are recognised ethnic groups in the UK and Ireland. Horses are significant to their lives, with horse ownership seen as a last link to their nomadic way of life. While horse welfare issues can be found throughout the horse industry, Traveller/Gypsy horse owners are often identified by stakeholders and the public as the main contributors to reduced horse welfare. Fly-grazing (unauthorised grazing on private land), tethering and abandoned horses are often linked with Traveller/Gypsy horse ownership. However, their perspective and approach to horse ownership is rarely examined. Using a mixed-method approach, this PhD thesis aimed to investigate public and stakeholder perceptions of Traveller/Gypsy horse culture and horse welfare, Traveller/Gypsy horse owners’ attitudes to, and knowledge of horse care and management practices and the current welfare status of Traveller/Gypsy horses in the UK and Ireland. Stakeholders included veterinary professionals, animal welfare officers, council/local authority employees and farriers. Data were collected at horse fairs, horse health clinics and at owners’ homes. A questionnaire was used to assess public (n = 397) and stakeholders’ (n = 103) knowledge and perceptions of Traveller/Gypsy horse culture using Likert-type scales. Traveller/Gypsy horse owners’ (n =71) views and knowledge of horse care and management were examined using face-to-face semi-structured interviews. To determine the health and welfare status of Traveller/Gypsy horses, 104 horses were assessed using a horse welfare protocol developed specifically for this study. Analysis revealed that the public had little knowledge of Traveller/Gypsy horse culture although there was some awareness of their tradition of horse ownership. Most had a negative perception of Traveller/Gypsy horse owners, with prejudices and stereotypes cited as the most common reason for these perceptions. A large number of participants were concerned for the welfare of Traveller/Gypsy horses. Most stakeholders believed that Traveller/Gypsy horse owners did not comply with the `Control of Horses Act`, were largely unaware of the concept of welfare and believed that Traveller/Gypsy horse owners were unlikely to request the advice of their stakeholder occupation. The majority also stated that their occupation had a negative perception of Traveller/Gypsy horse owners. Parasites (internal and external) and being underweight were rated as highly prevalent health issues in Traveller/Gypsy horses. Thematic analysis revealed that most Traveller/Gypsy horse owners had a good understanding of horse health and welfare, understood the natural behaviour and natural environment of the horse and applied it in their management practices. Most horse owners were aware of the meaning of the animal welfare concept. Traveller/Gypsy horse owners experienced many challenges to horse ownership, with most citing land availability as one of the main difficulties. The health and welfare assessment of Traveller/Gypsy horses reported most horses as having an optimal body condition score, an absence of skin and limb conditions, and a friendly response when approached. Hoof neglect and the presence of hoof cracks/breakages were the most prevalent welfare issues present. It is evident from this study that there was an inconsistency between perceptions and the reality of Traveller/Gypsy horse ownership and welfare. This research provides novel data in the under-researched area of Traveller/Gypsy horse welfare. Therefore, there is a continuing need for the inclusion of marginalised communities in research prior to assumptions being made, so that their voices are heard.