Equine Welfare

PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Equine Tips

The PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee encourages positive and engaging educational exploration from our readers - we'd love to hear your feedback! Please let us know if you have any questions about our tip or have a suggestion about specific topics you would be interested in learning more about in the future. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee chair. Thank you!

Please join us on Community Connections!  
We invite you to participate in lively, thought-provoking, and sometimes controversial discussions on the online PATH Intl. Equine Welfare community group. No matter your specific interests (EFP, therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, carriage driving, interactive vaulting, etc.), they ALL involve working with equine partners. This is the resource for all PATH Intl. members to exchange ideas, ask questions, offer comments and suggestions, and “pick the brains” of some of our industry’s most experienced and qualified people. Click here to access the Equine Welfare Community group. You will need to be logged in. If you have any questions about joining the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Community group, please email the moderator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Monthly Webinars
The PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee is hosting monthly webinars on Equine Care & Welfare for Therapy Horses. Please join us! You can find dates for these webinars on the PATH Intl. website and in the PATH Intl. eNews. To sign up for the webinars, log in to the PATH Intl. website and go to the PATH Intl. online Store then “purchase” the webinar (at no cost!) and you will be sent an email with information on how to sign in to the webinar you “purchased.” Please note: There are a limited number of attendee spaces available for each webinar, so if you do not see the monthly webinar you wish to “purchase” listed in the store, this means that particular webinar is full.

Tamarack Hill Farm

Let's say we jog in place---we humans. Now let's say we squat down while jogging in place. Try it, it hurts more. Now squat lower, jog higher----It hurts still more, we pant more, we struggle more. We are feeling the effects of athletically induced discomfort.

Now imagine that you are sitting on a horse being ridden (correctly) back to front. You drive with seat or legs, create some impulsion, and simultaneously you "contain-receive-balance" that impulsion with your quiet, negotiating hands, so that the horse is being asked to take a "deeper" step, come more under himself, and lift himself more rather than simply push himself along, as he'd do naturally.

We call this things like "asking for more engagement", "asking him to carry himself". Even though what we are doing may be careful asking rather than forceful demanding, it STILL hurts the horse. No, it doesn't INJURE the horse, but it causes him athletically induced discomfort, because when you ask him to engage his hocks, and start to lift and carry his own weight, it's the same as what you felt jogging in place while squatting, lots of physical exertion.

Now the horse, feeling the effects of being asked to be a weight lifter, (and having zero incentive to become a well trained dressage horse---hahahaha, you anthropomorphic dreamer!) the horse tries to avoid the engagement.

He can invert. He can roll under. He can lean on the bit. He can flip his head. ALL these front end/head evasions are---listen here---to get rid of the "correct" connection between the driving aids and the receiving aids, because that connection makes him weight lift, and he'd far rather not.

In other words, we FEEL the resistance up FRONT, in the bit, reins, hands, but the resistance we feel up front is because he doesn't like the pressure of engagement BEHIND. (It took me about 2 1/2 years to figure this out, by the way) So now we MAY think, as many of us do---"My horse is "resisting" in his mouth/jaw. I need to use stronger rein aids. I need a sharper bit. I need draw reins. I need one of those leverage rigs." (This process can turn, easily, into ugly adversarial fighting, rider demanding, scared, uncomfortable horse resisting)

NO---What we need is to think very long term about strength training. We ask him to step under (engage), negotiate for some moments of semi-lift, back off, let him recover, ask for a little more, back off, repeat, repeat for months, tiny increments, little by little, "building the horse like an onion", one tiny layer at a time.

WEIGHT LIFTING IS SLOW. WEIGHT LIFTING DOESN'T FEEL GOOD. Yes, it will eventually turn your horse into a better athlete, but your horse doesn't know that. He isn't "being bad" when he resists, he's trying to get away from athletically induced discomfort. So----GO SLOW, HAVE COMPASSION for what he is undergoing. End of long discussion. I was no big saint about horse training. It took me too many years to equate much of this. Don't make the mistakes I made, and that so many riders make. Be better than that.

Marty Head comments

Engagement from Behind won't happen when the hocks are misaligned...nor will the horse's energy flow well Forward when the first ribs are misaligned. My mare, when I found her 10 years ago, tripped and short-strided on her fronts and winged with popping joints on her hinds. Heavy on the forehand and pulled herself along with her shoulders. Now at 21, she naturally engages her hinds and has powerful extension...as she willingly offers 5 different trots. Fellow riders tell me she carries me in a collected frame as we compete in endurance. I learned how to re-balance her body...and then got out of her way, while in the saddle. She responded by willfully engaging her hinds and collecting herself. And gaining 50 lbs. of muscle in the process. SHE's the one who trained ME how to ride.

Cathy Languerand's comments on Tamarack Hill Farm’s discussion:

I recently attended a work shop on rider bio-mechanics that did just what this discussion describes. We got on a mini trampoline and jogged in place with correct alignment for no more than three minutes (no one in any class had ever done more than three minutes). If done correctly this exercise is difficult and tiring. (We spent three days doing many exercises that refine our partnership with horses.) Try it yourself, engaging your core and really picking up those knees! Do this for three minutes a day gradually building your strength. Notice when you start to feel discomfort, what motivates you to continue? Are you able to notice athletically induced discomfort in your horse? Are you able to notice if your horse is physically fit enough to carry unbalanced riders? Do you have the fitness and knowledge to provide strength training for your therapy horses? Where do you go to deepen your knowledge and skills for creating “Partnership with Horses”?

As PATH Instructors we work in “Partnership” with our horses. If our horse is not in partnership then he is in fight, flight, or disassociation. If our horse “resists” we are not in partnership. What does “resistance” look like? Fear, anger, frustration, evasion, shut down? What is your response to resistance? Please read this article through again and consider what your own comfort level is. This discussion from Tamarack Hill Farm opens a door to a wonderful conversation on achieving partnership with our horses. Do you have any pictures or comments to share?

The need for partnership with horses is necessary in all “arenas” of horsemanship. Therapy is what the horses do for us. Horsemanship is about our relationship with horses. Our beliefs will shape how we hold and how we use our skills.

Choose wisely, for yourself and the Horses.

Cathy Languerand
PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Chair

Sharing Space With a Loose Horse

By Cathy Languerand, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Chair

I have not been bitten by a horse for 20 years till a week ago, when a slightly food-aggressive horse tried to grab hay out of my arms and got my hand. She is not the type of horse who gently takes a bite with her lips but the kind who grabs with teeth and ears back. (She is currently not in any therapeutic lessons because of her lack of tolerance with both students and volunteers and is being given some time off.)

I was very tired and half asleep as I went in to give the horses their late night hay.  I was also in a weakened emotional state, grieving the loss of my son. I have received hugs from some horses, no changes from some, and now aggression from this one. Looking at the big picture, people have been about the same.

I always look at my own accountability in my actions. What could I do differently? Was I too emotional to go in with loose horses, should I have someone else feed? Well, the next night I went in again. I was fully present and asked (pictured) this mare staying back and not even thinking about approaching me. She did not move, and did not even look in my direction when I entered with the hay. She was not stressed; she remained at rest with one leg cocked in a resting position. I calmly walked right past her. I used no spoken words and no body language except to be present in body, mind and spirit with a conscious intention to have my own space from her as I put hay in three piles for the three horses. The other two moved around me with soft, quiet gratitude as I put out their hay. She saw me and heard me but chose to ignore me. I thanked her as I left. She went in and ate her hay after I left.

What does partnership look like? Why was this mare more reactive that night? Was it me or was it her? I have learned to recognize that animals see us as vibrational beings. When different emotions change our vibrations our animals may feel the difference. Learning to be present and accountable is a daily practice. I am grateful to all my teachers.

So when a horse is at liberty in his own space, stall or paddock and someone enters that space, how does one stay safe?

  • Make sure you have permission to enter their space.
  • Have a clear intention of why you are entering their space.
  • Be present body, mind, and spirit. Breathe from your belly.
  • Have a way to get out if you need it. A horse will always know where the gate is.
  • Be calm and confident.
  • Just being in their space can feel invasive to some horses. Notice and understand if your presence is causing them stress. Notice physical and emotional signs of stress or changes in behavior.
  • If more than one horse is in the space, understand that you may be in the space of a non-aggressive horse who gets moved by a more aggressive horse. You can still be run over. Even by mister nice guy.
  • Hand feeding treats to a food-aggressive horse can be dangerous for everyone. Be accountable, your actions may cause harm to others.

Please share your stories. We are both teacher and student for each other.

Reinforce Positivity and Progression

By Jayna Wekenman

Driving to the Cleveland, OH for the PATH Intl. Conference in November (2015), I was sharing my thoughts setting promoting and supporting Enrichment for equines aside, and moving on with other aspirations for a while. I am fortunate for a small and mighty support system, and the past 6 years have been difficult in promoting Behavioral Enrichment and Environmental Enrichment for the equine assisted industry. I have struggled with direction and “next steps” without much feedback from both those I talked with and the larger industry. In addition, much feedback regarded Enrichment as not needed nor viable. I often motivated myself, and fuel was running low. Still, I was optimistic about this conference.

Morrigan Ansons-Reilly and I had the Domestic Foragers booth and presentation for promoting foraging-based enrichment tools, toys, and techniques. Throughout the few days, many attendees and passersby commented on foraging devices they used, explained how they implemented them, and told stories of their equines‘ engagement. I also received feedback regarding events and presentations years prior. Over-all, conversations were positive, and I left with enthusiasm for the future of Enrichment for the equines of the equine assisted industry.

In processing this experience, I realized the importance of reinforcement for me. Those words, stories, and support reinforced my work when intrinsic motivation and determination were no longer enough. So, my TIP to you... reinforce those within your center or whomever you encounter working toward something positive and progressive. Intrinsic motivation and determination of those working on projects and practice progressions at your center may not be enough for those individuals as well. How little or large, your constructive criticism, support, enthusiasm, time, and/or money may be the fuel needed to accomplish or implement.

Tips for a Safe Learning Session

By Cathy Languerand, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Chair

The following safety tips are intended to help you observe, educate and shape your choices in order to create a safe, calm session. If you set goals in the same way you would for a therapeutic riding session you will be setting yourself up for success.

  • Start by having a clear idea of the skill to be learned. Take complete responsibility for yourself, your horse and your equipment. This can be anything from a trailer loading session to walking through a brook--anything that raises your horse’s adrenaline.
  • Know your own limitations and level of experience. Ask your horse only what you know you can achieve.
  • Wear a hard hat and gloves.
  • Work with a partner who is familiar with the language of equus.
  • Know how to choose and use appropriate equipment.
  • Keeping your horse's adrenaline down can be done by breaking the session down into small steps with clear rewards. Study equine body language to learn where you place your eyes, how you stand, even the use of your breath can effect communication. Set yourself up to succeed.
  • Plan how to use both rewards and corrections that work best for each horse.
  • Choose a safe method of rewards and corrections that you and your center find to be both compassionate and clear. Make a choice to study methods that do not use force and that increase communication and partnership. (Contact the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee for resources.)
  • Know what motivates your horse. Not all horses consider food a reward. Other rewards include release of pressure, rest, or a rub in his favorite spot. Build in jackpot rewards to celebrate a “big” try. Example – the horse puts his two front feet in the trailer; back him out and take him to a grassy spot and let him eat grass for a few minutes. Again, only when your horse is calm will he truly have conquered a new skill and be able to partner with you.
  • Food in a bucket can be given if chosen as a beneficial REWARD. A REWARD is given AFTER your horse responds correctly to your request. Break the skill to be learned down into small, safe steps.
  • Food becomes a BRIBE when used to LURE the horse to step toward a scary object like a trailer. This will not create leadership or partnership. A bribe will work only if and when the horse feels like taking the bribe.
  • Understand the why and how rewards work. When a horse is chewing food it activates the part of his brain associated with learning which is the opposite of activating adrenaline.
  • Safe and calm only happen when your horse accepts what you ask without bringing his adrenaline up.
  • Recognize signs of a raised adrenaline/ stress: heart rate up, respiration up, sweating, fight, flight, or freeze.
  • Refine your ability to read your horse’s body language. Watch to see how he uses his senses of smell and touch, and how he explores with both front feet.

Know that your horse is confirmed in his knowledge when you can calmly and fluidly move all four of his feet both forward and backward over an object several times in a row. In addition, you will need to schedule other sessions where you repeat this exercise several times in other places.

Remember to create a benefit for you and your partner.
Happy trails!

Benefits of Conference

Cathy Languerand, PATH Intl. Equine welfare Committee Chair

It was a nine hour drive to Cleveland, Ohio, a great time to think and plan (on the way out) and reflect (on the way back) on my reasons for attending this year’s PATH Intl. Conference. I went to share the work of our Equine Welfare Committee on emotional well-being for equines. Collectively, two committee members and I (we had never met in person until the presentation) shared our PowerPoint presentation. We all practiced together reading, exploring and examining cultures that produce optimal health and cultures that produce stress. We will soon have this PowerPoint available on the PATH Intl. website. In addition I planned on meeting others who are involved in partnering with horses in our bodies, in our minds, and from our hearts. If you were in Ohio for the conference you saw what this looks like! Through research, videos, PowerPoints, stories, and hands on with the horses, we all shared this connection of body, mind and spirit with ourselves, our horses, and each other.

It was inspirational and motivated a renewed commitment to the “path” of therapy and healing that our horses are giving use both individually and as a group. This collective gathering of our knowledge, energy and intention is very powerful, even synergistic. We immersed ourselves in this energy for four days. I was able to sit in and listen to several members of the Equine Welfare Committee, both past and present, as they shared their work and wisdom. Very awesome! Key note speaker Jackie Stevenson was a high point for me. Jackie also did an equine session at Saturday’s Horse Expo that was wonderful. Jackie invited everyone at the session to collectively or individually share with the four horses in the indoor an intention from the heart. This connection from the heart was both seen and felt by all who chose to participate.

This same connected awareness was present during every session I attended.

From Healing for Veterans to the Wisdom of Donkeys
From benefits of play to effects of trauma
From mentoring others to discussions with peers

As a Center Program Director and PATH Intl. Certified Instructor I work with horses and humans daily. As a Reiki Master I work with energy daily. As an observer at this year’s conference I was able to see, hear, and feel from my heart everyone reaching out from their hearts, connecting to this collective wisdom that is both Horse and Human within the powerful container of PATH Intl.

My “Tip” from the Horses: connect from your heart.

From my heart to yours,
Cathy Languerand
PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Chair

10 Ways to Use PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee’s Guidelines for Equines in Therapeutic Horsemanship Programs

By Jayna Wekenman, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee member

Guidelines for Equines in Therapeutic Horsemanship Programs was created as a resource for PATH Intl. members, PATH Intl. centers, and others. Care and Welfare for Therapy Horses is a presentation and webinar accompanying this document. Both are readily available through the website (Home -- Education -- Industry Links -- Equine Welfare) or at: http://www.pathintl.org/resources-education/resources/equine-welfare.

The following offers 10 ways in which the Guidelines and presentation can be utilized as a resource. Please share your comments and more ideas in the Equine Welfare Community on Community Connections.    

  1. Both resources were created in collaboration with AAEP (American Association Equine Practitioners) which is comprised of (mostly) veterinarians working to improve the health and welfare of the horse throughout the equine industry. The presentation suggests benefits to veterinarians of being involved with PATH Intl. centers. These resources can be used in educating veterinarians and/or veterinarian students about PATH Intl. and PATH Intl. programs.  
  2. Similar to the benefits suggested for veterinarians, collaboration with PATH Intl. members and centers can be beneficial for equine products and services. These resources can be used as a tool for laying out these benefits when eliciting sponsorships of equine products and services. Furthermore, these resources can be a tool in aligning goals of collaboration i.e. defining fitness of equines, amenities of barn and program areas, etc etc.
  3. Use both when training volunteers and staff.
  4. Using the Guidelines to help define your program’s preventative maintenance for equine health and roles of individual people within the equine welfare team.
  5. Develop a checklist (or use the example) to gather information for evaluation and documentation of equine health and wellbeing. Include weight, concerns, current feed, laminitis checks, and more. Then, host Equine Welfare Days with veterinarians, staff, volunteers, participants, and public to collect data for each individual equine.
  6. Host an Equine Education Day for public, kids, and potential participants. Both resources include easy-to-use pictures and info that can be used.  
  7. Definitions and language used throughout each resource regarding equine welfare can be used in creating a common language for discussions amongst staff and volunteers of programs and the larger PATH Intl. membership on Community Connections.
  8. Create conversations regarding behavioral concerns of program horses amongst program personnel and participants. Use the Attitude vs Pain slide amongst others. Many of these conversations can be processed for learning outcomes in EAL and EAMH.
  9. These resources can serve other equines, barns, participants, and professionals in the non-PATH Intl. equine industry, too.
  10. Print the Guidelines for Equines in Therapeutic Horsemanship Programs off and use it as a manual for day-to-day operations. Keep it accessible.

What to Do if Your Horse Is Stolen!

by Molly Sweeney, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Member

The best thing you can do before your horse is stolen is take precautions NOW to help prevent horse theft from ever happening. Extensive information is available from Stolen Horse International at www.NetPossee.com. More information can be found in the book, Horse Theft, Been There-Done That by Stolen Horse International’s founder, Debi Metcalfe. All her material is under copyright, so the following tips will be minimally basic. The website and book will give you comprehensive prevention tips and guide you in making a search and recovery action plan. You will also learn when horse theft is a civil case and when it is a criminal case and what that difference means to you and your horse.

Prevention: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • Document, document, document
  • Photograph, photograph, photograph
  • Be aware of pitfalls in horse donations, leases and sales, and always have legal signed papers to protect everyone and the horse in these transactions
  • Security at all times. From NetPosse you can buy a W.H.O.A. sign, WARNING: HORSE OWNER AWARENESS, Horses and Equipment Have Permanent Identification.
  • Have a crisis team and a trained network in place to call into immediate action if a theft does happen.
  • Make an action plan including a list of people to contact and places to go in person

Search Action Plan:

  • Take immediate action. Time is of the essence in horse theft cases.
  • Get the facts of the theft
  • Call appropriate Law Enforcement Agencies and Livestock Units for your city, state and/or county
  • File a report with Stolen Horse International through www.NetPosse.com
  • Determine the Reward offered
  • Create a flyer with all the horse’s information and photo and post it ASAP in every public place and on all the social media you can think of
  • Go in person to horse auctions and notify equine slaughter facilities. Presently (September 2015) Congress has voted to not fund horse inspections, effectively banning equine slaughter facilities in the USA. Equine slaughter facilities still operate in Canada and Mexico. Check annually to see if any have opened in the USA.
  • On a daily basis, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up
  • Keep a record of all actions, calls and any correspondence
  • Don’t give up!


  • Have all documents with you to prove ownership
  • Never go alone
  • Prosecute as much as you can under the law. Often the value of the stolen item determines whether it is a misdemeanor or prosecutable felony. Check your state laws so you can declare the appropriate value of your horse. In Texas it is now $2500.

Having a plan and the ability to take IMMEDIATE action will go a long way toward a successful recovery.

Face Value: Equine expressions defined through EquiFACS

Christina Russell, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee member

Professionals who work with horses have long understood that horses communicate through body language, vocalizations and facial expressions. This often may be one of the first lessons we teach our students and volunteers in order for them to better understand how to safely work around horses. Many participants in EAAT programing enjoy learning how to read a horse’s head position, ears and eyes to determine if they are frightened, calm or curious. For children, understanding the swish of a tail or a pair of pinned ears can feel like clues to understand a secret and often times silent language.

Horses are highly social animals who have a clear organizational structure and relationships within their herd, similar to many other mammal species. Communication is a key element to maintain these relationships, but there is also typically a focus on the whole head and body of the horse as opposed to specific facial expressions.

A recent research project from the University of Sussex (Jean Wathan, Anne M. Burrows, Bridget M. Waller, Karen McComb) descends deeper into the subtleties of equine communication. A new system referred to as EquiFACS (Facial Action Coding System) has been designed to identify and record all possible facial expressions in horses based on the underlying facial musculature and movement. This type of facial coding system is not new and has long been used in behavioral and physiological settings for humans. Facial coding systems have also been adapted for primates and other domestic animals.

EquiFACS is the first system designed specifically for equines. This system identifies the muscles or muscle groups which may move to create an expression, as well as the type of movement. This standardized approach makes it possible for observers to record expressions without the emotional bias or interpretations people often assign facial expressions.

Most of the existing research on equine communication has been focused on expressions found in one particular context. The observations for this project were made by observing 15 hours of video footage that captures a variety of naturally occurring behaviors in 86 different horses. There were 17 facial actions identified and recorded as opposed to 27 in humans. The facial actions were divided into Upper Face Actions, Lower Face Actions and Ear Movement Descriptors. Any of the equine expressions which were seen similarly in humans were also specified, as well as possible combinations of the specific face actions.

The creation of the anatomically based EquiFACS system will be instrumental in furthering research on equine communication. This tool will make it possible to record consistent horse facial expressions in any context as well as make comparisons to other species. This will only further the understanding of equine communication and strengthen efforts to improve welfare for domestic horses.

To view the full article and findings:

Grooming: Building a Connection

By Marcie Ehrman, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee member

During our monthly equine welfare committee conference call, I agreed to write a “Tips” article on flies. I actually did start writing the article. And then, while grooming my pony, I began to think about the meaning of the words, “grooming as ceremony,” one of the topics we discussed in a planning session for our presentation at the International Conference. No spoiler alert here – it just made me think about the enormous value of spending time observing, bonding & connecting with your horse while engaged in the seemingly ordinary task of grooming.

Starting out, observe your horse’s demeanor and his mood. Is he attentive or distracted, relaxed or tense? Allow all your senses to partake in the experience – (well, maybe not taste!). Really see him – focus large and take in the whole vision of him; then focus in and observe his hair coat, his muscling, the contours of his feet – every minute detail. Pay attention to his eyes, his ears, his jaw set, his mouth and lips. Watch the movement of his tail. Observe his breathing – is it fast or slow, deep or shallow, regular or irregular, and does it change during the grooming session? Notice his stance – does he tend to cock one hind leg more than another? Does he prefer standing with one particular leg forward or back? Does he lower his head as grooming progresses? Have you found his “lippy spots” (those places that feel so good when brushed or curried that his upper lip will move as if he is offering to return the favor)? Play with using minimal gesture, words and touch to ask him to pick up each foot. Refine these over time – you will probably find him offering you his feet (in sequence) with just a light touch or even a word or signal. Work toward using ever more subtle cues to ask him to lower his head, back up or step sideways. Observe & feel his legs – familiarize yourself with the muscle, bone and joint structures, the ridges and hollows. Use your hands to feel for any swellings, lumps, bumps or temperature changes as you move them down his legs and around his hooves.  Breathe in his smell, listen to him inhale & exhale and enjoy the rumbling of his gut sounds. Mentally check in with him periodically throughout the grooming session; learn to recognize any changes in demeanor and degree of relaxation, whether obvious or subtle. Allow yourself to feel very present with him.

So next time you pick up a curry comb or body brush – really “tune in” to your horse, and transform a routine task into a truly bonding experience.

Please share your experiences “tuning in to your horse” at PATH Intl. community connections page.




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