BEVA has defended the work equine vets do to safeguard horse welfare, stating “profit must not be confused with a lack of passion”.

The call came after a session titled “Are vets failing our horses?” took place at the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum in London.

Opening the session, chief executive of World Horse Welfare and qualified vet Roly Owers said while he felt the overall answer was “no”, practitioners “could be doing a lot better in many areas”, such as weight management and breeding.

He said: “I think vets often have a bad reputation when it comes to welfare because we certainly do not own animal welfare or equine welfare, but I believe we have a fundamentally important part in supporting and promoting [it].”

Following Major Owers’ presentation, he was asked whether horse trainers having more responsibility for veterinary care was an example of vets seeking commercial gain above their welfare commitment. He said this could be true “in some cases”.

“I’ve seen it first hand, that some trainers, like owners, can be very opinionated and very demanding, and especially when you know if you don’t do as the trainer wants you to do, they’ll just up sticks and go down the practice down the road – that is a real commercial conundrum.”

Major Owers insisted, however, that vets’ loyalty was to the animals they cared for.

In response to the discussions, BEVA senior vice-president Mark Bowen admitted while quantifying quality of life in horses was something the profession was only beginning to address, the “massive” contribution it made to equine welfare should be recognised before it got “pilloried” for its role.

He said: “Ultimately, we have crude if not incompetent measures of welfare for horses; whether these are physiological, behavioural or neurohormonal, they can identify abnormal responses. However we neither quantify those responses and nor perhaps truly understand the meaning of these on quality of life. Indeed we can all recognise and label “cruelty”, but quantifying quality of life in horses is something that the profession has only just begun to address. So before the equine veterinary profession is pilloried for its role in equine welfare we need to recognise the massive contribution that they make on a daily basis. While veterinary business is a business, profit must not be confused with a lack of passion. Furthermore, devaluing our professional expertise is potentially as dangerous to the profession as overvaluing our services. Nonetheless, BEVA is proud of the substantial hard work undertaken by its members to safeguard and promote equine welfare, each and every day.” 

Vicki Nicholls, BEVA President said: “BEVA are rightly proud of the work that equine vets do on a daily basis to safeguard the welfare of both horses owned by clients and those horses where ownership is unknown. On entering this honoured profession vets swear an oath to “ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care” and we are proud that our members endeavour to prioritise the welfare of these majestic animals all day, every day. Equine vets do this through the management and surveillance of disease, education of both vets and owners and driving research, in addition to diverse roles across the equine sector including equine charities, governance, industry and sport. They volunteer to undertake pro bono work to uphold veterinary care through the UK and beyond through charities such as the BEVA Trust. On a daily basis equine vets promote equine welfare despite the real risks of injury and the constant threat of mental health disease. BEVA is proud of its members for their considerable and continuous contribution to equine welfare.

“Equine vets are MORE than guardians of equine welfare. Vets have a critical role in brokering a healthy compromise between owner expectation of treatment and prognosis, and what science predicts is the best treatment. However, these solutions can often be devoid of robust clinical evidence and are based on opinion and experience. It is clear that we must work with owners to find an acceptable solution rather than preach from the proverbial ivory tower. Although there are substantial pressures on vets from owners and trainers, all treatments should be in the welfare interests of the horse and not because they are demanded by owners/keepers?”