Equine Welfare & Equitation Science at Festina Lente

At the heart of the work of the Festina Lente Equestrian Centre is the relationship between humans and horses and how they benefit people in so many ways.  Festina Lente’s approach to working with horses such that their welfare is paramount, is an on-going and evolving journey.  Equine Welfare, excellent mental, emotional and physical health and well-being of our equine is of vital importance to everyone at Festina Lente.

This is evidenced by the large number of people involved in the variety of equine related activities that are provided here at Festina Lente each year.

It is therefore both logical and ethical that the welfare and management of horses is taken very seriously by the people who are responsible for their well-being:

  • Ensuring the well-being of all horses is the responsibility of all the trainees, riders, helpers, volunteers, staff and Board of Directors.
  • Ensuring their welfare is an ongoing journey and one that needs constant attention, consideration and resources.
  • Keeping abreast of the latest equine research that is conducted on horse welfare considerations for stabled horses and the best methods in training and working with equine.

Festina Lente Code of Ethics for Equines

Principle No. 1 – Equines are treated with empathy and respect – both during their working life and at the end of it

Principle No. 2 – Equines are free from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury and disease, fear and distress and have freedom to behave as naturally as possible.

Principle No. 3 – Equines are managed in a competent and educated manner by all handlers.

Principle No. 4 – Equine behaviour is understood from the perspective of how equines think and not how humans think.

Some of the essential areas that we believe are important to our horses are…

  • Correct tack fit
  • Bitless Bridles – Efforts have included the introduction of bitless bridles, with a policy of all horses in Therapeutic Riding, School sessions and Private Lessons never having a bitted bridle. Many of the horses working groups will also have bitless bridles.
  • Natural Hoof care – Unless for veterinary reasons, all horses are barefoot.
  • Optimum access to fields for social interaction and grazing and just being a horse!
  • Schooling programme for horses based on the latest equitation science
  • Communicating with horses as horses communicate with each other
  • Continuous feeding – In response to the negative impact of restricted feeding, all horses have access to continuous feeding and we use the Pacefeeder feeding boxes.
  • Daily check on hours worked  – bearing in mind that as soon as you enter the stable this is when the horses work starts!
  • A maximum number of hours allowed to work per day and per week to ensure healthy, long rest and break periods out of their stables.
  • Regular visits by the dentist
  • Preventative back care programme
  • Regular vaccination and worming programme
  • Restricted area in front of the stables – Respecting the horses stable as, for all intents and purposes as his home, members of the public are not allowed to approach our stables. This allows us to keep stable doors open and allows horses to stand at the front of his stable without people approaching the stable on a continuous basis.
  • We close our Equestrian Learning Centre for 2 weeks during the summer and all horses get a supervised, relaxing holiday in a location that is rented outside of Festina Lente for the holiday period.
  • Recently, we have introduced a practice of horses going out on a rotational basis for a break from work as opposed to the more traditional summer holidays. This is proving especially effective for the horses for which we are responsible.

In addition to the above, Festina Lente invests resources in staff training via research, conference attendance, external training and in house learning programmes. Festina Lente is committed to implementing ways of managing and interacting with horses based on the latest equitation science and welfare research and validating our practices is done by conducting on-going research projects which are presented at various conferences.

Equitation Science

Our latest endeavours are focusing on working with horses from the perspective Equitation Science, an approach which promotes an “objective, evidence-based understanding of the welfare of horses during training by applying valid, quantitative scientific methods that can identify what training techniques are ineffective or may result in equine suffering. Equitation science uses a multidisciplinary approach to explain horse training, for example from a learning theory perspective that removes anthropomorphism and emotiveness” (http://www.equitationscience.com).

Festina Lente staff work closely with experts in the field of Equitation Science and follow the work and research from other experts from International Society for Equitation Science (ISES).

For more on this please read ‘Advent of Equitation Science’ – by P. McGreevy (2007, Veterinary Journal 174, 492–500).

To do this in an Equestrian Learning Centre poses significant challenges due to the high number of people who interact with horses with varying understanding of equitation scienceinconsistency of messages is a big problem for horses.

In order to continue on our journey Festina Lente has an Equine Welfare and Education Co-ordinator whose role it is to work with all teams and individuals in line with equitation learning theory. With over 30 horses living in Festina Lente, all horses are being assessed on a number of factors based on equitation learning theory. This assessment then informs an individual learning plan for each horse.

An additional approach to managing the horses and their behaviour is to allow anybody to document any horse behaviour that is of a concern either when they are being ridden or handled. This is reviewed each day by our Equine Welfare and Education Co-ordinator on a daily basis and integrates it into the horse’s learning plan.

Horse Retirement

Our horses and ponies that can no longer work in our Equestrian Centre for lessons happily live out the rest of their days in our retirement field.Festina Lente has also developed a Horse Retirement Care programme where a group of men and women with an intellectual disability from the Festina Lente Saol Anois day service care for and ensure the welfare of the retired horses under staff supervision.  Click here to read more about our Retirement Field and our Retired Horses.