Human behaviour often lies at the root of animal welfare issues, wherever they are found. WSPA’s Human Behaviour Change work – piloted in 2008 with horse workers – is a pioneering attempt to address this issue by engaging with entire communities and their animals.
Most working equine welfare projects often provide a service, such as veterinary care, and aim to increase awareness of why the animals are suffering.
These projects help many animals, but we know that awareness, while valuable, does not always lead to behaviour change.
While a vet may be able to treat the sores caused by poor harnesses, it is a lasting change in how the owner harnesses and looks after the horse that will prevent the problem reoccurring.
With our human behaviour change work, WSPA has set out to create a lasting and positive difference in the relationships between animals and the humans that depend on them.
Behaviour change in practice: making a start in Nicaragua
Our pilot project tests a new approach developed for WSPA by Bristol University’s Dr Rebecca Whay. It is based on the understanding that in order to create changes to our behaviour, it is first necessary for us to truly understand its causes.
WSPA and member society Universidad de Ciencias Comerciales (UCC) held two workshops in 2008 for horse owners from the countryside around the capital. The horse owners are totally reliant on horses for their incomes, but don't always have the knowledge to keep them healthy.
During the meetings, the participants worked to identify the specific problems they face when caring for their horses, and the effects on the animals’ welfare.
With UCC's help, they then investigated the causes of these problems, and considered communal solutions.
For example, many of the local horses are thin and therefore weak, presenting a problem for owners and animals. By identifying and agreeing the causes – which include poor teeth, heavy loads, and inadequate feed – the owners could then think about what they have the most ability to change.
If it is difficult to get hold of good quality feed at an affordable price, the horse workers could consider coming together as a group and asking feed merchants to offer discounts for bulk purchasing.
With WSPA’s support, the communities that took part have developed strategies to improve working horse welfare, and are now testing them.
Finding the causes, owning the solutions
The lasting success of human behaviour change work rests on the fact that communities aren’t told what to do, but reach conclusions and make decisions themselves.
WSPA and UCC are working with representatives of the horse owning communities to enable them to continue the project with minimal support. We are already seeing changes in how people are treating their horses, such as offering more shaded rest and regular breaks for water.
Taking responsibility and ownership – as well as seeing the health of their horses improve – are crucial factors in creating lasting behaviour change, and better animal welfare.
After the success of the pilot in Nicaragua, WSPA began a second human behaviour change project in 2008, this time in Cambodia.