International Society for Equine Science Conference 2024 New Zealand

April 13 2024 | General, Welfare and Veterinary Committee

Text: Jennie Boerema, Chair of the Icelandic Horses New Zealand Inc. (IceHNZ)
Presentation picture  on SLO from the presentation of Mike Weishaupt, FEIF Conference 2023

The topic for the yearly ISES conference, this time held in New Zealand, Don Rowland Centre, Lake Karapiro, was on the fundamentals of providing a good life for horses.
During 2 days several researchers presented their scientific research and results at the Centre and during the field day we visited a range of equestrian facilities in the area, from Cambridge Thoroughbred Stud to Riding for the Disabled. This to help develop collective understanding of the assessment of a good life in relation to the different life experiences of horses.

I have attended all 3 days and it was a great experience and heart warming to see how much research is going on to help us providing a good life for our horses.
Overall I can say we are not doing too bad in the way the Icelandic horse is raised traditionally in Iceland and are kept in herds or open boxes where social contact is possible. We however have to stay vigilante to make sure we provide the best possible life for our equine friends and stay updated with the latest knowledge on keeping and training.
This day and age with the social media, a Social License to Operate (SLO) is very important. FEIF has recently published a statement on the welfare of the Icelandic horse and working closely together with scientific researchers for the best of our Icelandic horses. The first speaker even referred to the SLO presentation of the FEIF, see photo!

It is too much to give a full report on all the presentations but they included among many other topics the following:

  • tightness of nosebands and consequences of too tight nosebands
  • stress/conflict behaviour as indicator of lesions due to inappropriate training
  • the effect of bitless bridles on the facial bone and the nerval system
  • development of AI (Artificial Intelligence) to recognise/analyse facial expression regarding behavioural state of the horse, also during training
  • positive emotional state with ad-lib feeding compared to restricted feeding
  • handling of foals, the influence of the mares on the foals and consequences of weaning early
  • importance of allowing horses a choice when interacting with humans, recognition of the expressions of the handler by the horse and the positive reaction of the horses when using the kind “kids” tone
  • raising of horses in mixed age herds, social contact and sleep of horses, that affects their learning ability

There is still much research needed also on all these topics. To improve the life of horses we need to work together with science. As one of the speakers mentioned, ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept’: a strong reminder of the importance to keep speaking up for our horses!

You can help by taking part in a worldwide survey called E-BARQ: E-BARQ, a University of Sydney study, investigates how horse training and management interact with behaviour. Over time, the project will provide researchers with invaluable information on how our training and management affects behaviour and how, in turn, behaviour affects horse welfare. See