The Brösarp project brings nature and showjumping horses together

I don’t usually write about horse behaviour and welfare, despite the fact that my love for these animals was the reason that led me into making the study of animals my profession. I grew up with horse breeding (my dad and my uncle bred sports horses) and horse riding and my first job as a 16-year old was training foals and young ponies. But it’s been a long time since, and for the last 20 years I haven’t spent much time around horses or even thinking or reading about horses. Perhaps combination of having once been so dedicated to them and now not being quite distanced makes me a little more hesitant to write professionally about horses, more so than a species I have had less contact with?

But occasionally my professional interest and my teenage passion meet – as was the case the other day when a short video about the Brösarp project came across my twitter feed.

In this interview in World of Showjumping, the veterinary expert behind the project Dr Ingvar Fredricson shares his philosophy of how to prepare horses for a long and healthy career in sports.

Is the idea of rearing future sport horses in a natural environment that stimulates locomotor activity revolutionary? Probably not from the perspective of what we know about the nature of horses, but definitely from the perspective of what is standard practice in equestrian sports.

From a research perspective, studying the effect of the early environment on health and durability in long lived animals such as horses is a huge challenge. We will only get to know if the summers spent roaming the hills of Brösarp make the horses better prepared for sustaining the pressure of international show jumping 10 years from now. And that is only for the first group of horses – this likely will have to continue for a number of years in order to generate data from a large enough number of animals.

But the first results regarding measurements of movement are already available – and great food for thought about how to keep horses. The horses kept in the 70 hectars enclousure in the nature reserve of Brösarps backar move about 13 km a day, about twice the amount compared to the control horses in a loose housing system with access to 2 hectar farmland pasture, and 4-5 times as much as the group which were stabled in combination with daytime access to a 0.5 ha pasture. The latter is unfortunately probably most representative of the way sport horses are kept – most likely to the detriment of both their mental and physical health.

Animal welfare outreach: Roi Mandel about student projects as dissemination initiatives

Roi Mandel, you have launched an innovative project to make students’ work in animal welfare reach a wider audience. Tell us more about the project and how it came about!

The aim of this project is rather straightforward – instead of keeping the knowledge on how to improve animal welfare inside the classroom/academia, we try to share it with the world using short (5-7 min) engaging YouTube videos, created by the students themselves.

The knowledge channelled through these videos concerns not only recently published scientific studies but also “older” studies that have a great potential to improve animal welfare in practice (yet unfortunately keep on failing to find their way to basic animal handler training programs/legislation initiatives and product labelling schemes). To improve the accessibility to these videos, English subtitles are added.

Why is important to share this knowledge? In contrast to common belief, the ability to improve the welfare of animals is rooted in holding relevant and updated knowledge, and acting based on it, and not necessarily by providing the animals with the most modern high-end/expensive farm equipment. To improve animal welfare, an animal handler first needs to know: 1. Why do farm animals behave the way they do (e.g. perception, cognition, social structure and contagion of emotions) 2. How can he/she use this knowledge to adapt the environment and his/her work habits to the needs of the animal. This type of knowledge, for example, could help farmers understand the importance of washing away the urine of a stressed cow before trying to get a naive cow into that area. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge generated by animal welfare scientists concerning these topics does not reach its target audience (animal handlers), and when it does, it is usually in the form of regulations (top-down mechanism), that set the minimum standards (i.e. prevent animal cruelty), and does not explain the rational behind them. The videos created by the students provide the audience with the knowledge of how to achieve better welfare conditions than the minimum required by law.

Is it not the responsibility of the relevant unions/sectors (dairy/meat/eggs) to channel this information to their workers? As long as farm animal training is not mandated by law in the majority of countries around the world (and in the few places where training is mandatory, like in Switzerland, there is no mechanism in place to assure periodical update of the knowledge), and as long as those who profit from these industries are not held responsible for providing this type of knowledge to their employees (or to those from which they buy their ״raw material”, e.g. meat, milk, eggs), this knowledge is bound to stay in the academy, locked by paid subscriptions for scientific journals and by conferences entrance fees. Therefore, instead of adopting the easy solution for everyone “its the farmers responsibility/fault”, this project also aims to encourage the students to take an active role in injecting knowledge into the system, hopefully creating future demand for such knowledge from the farmers themselves.

Instructional video creation is not necessarily part of the average Master student’s professional tool box. How do you prepare students for taking on this challenge?

Apart from sending the students a list of free video editing softwares that I found online, I do not do much. The students learn quickly on their own how to use these softwares using instructional videos on YouTube. They report this part to be rather fun, a bit like a game.

foto mandel

What advice would you give other teachers who would like to try something like this?

Once the script is ready and approved by you (scientific content), let the students a free hand with regards to how they would like to deliver the material. They are so incredibly creative when given the option. I had students conducting interviews with farmers/scientist, fully animated videos, stop-motion videos, advertisement-like videos, students dressed like a chicken, others like a cow – as long as they deliver the take home message in a rememberable way – do not intervene in the process

For more technical/detailed advice (how to create shared work logs, a video script, pitching the ideas to the class, work meetings and such) please free to contact me at: – I’ll be happy to share my experience.

If you want to see some examples of student videos, Roi suggests Cows’ auditory sense , Early detection of pain in cows and Social isolation of horses (by veterinary students at the Hebrew University, Israel) as well as Learning mechanisms, Dominance in goats and Hiding before calving (by 3rd year bachelor students at ETH Zurich, Switzerland).