From the horse's mouth
Many recreational horse-owners in New Zealand belong to equestrian-themed social media groups. Amongst other things, group members discuss the health of their horses, and may seek advice from each other about particular health issues and treatment recommendations. A horse owner herself, and a Registered Veterinary Nurse and Rural Animal Technician, Senior Lecturer Steph Mann undertook research into not just why this is happening, but also what impact this form of decision-making can have on horses, and on the equine professional community reading these social media posts.
With permission from social media group managers, Steph invited group members to participate in an anonymous survey about their use of social media. She received and analysed 156 valid responses. She also interviewed six animal care professionals about the survey results, to understand the reasons why professionals appear unable or unwilling to interact or respond to posts seeking or giving advice and replies to posts - even when the advice given is inappropriate to the situation, inaccurate, incomplete, and therefore compromises the welfare of the horse through poor decision making by owners.
Steph recommends that Facebook users who are members of equine-themed groups in New Zealand should be more responsible, because the information provided online is not always accurate, may be out of date or out of context, and may cause additional suffering to their horses:
- “Crowd sourcing” advice is not always a bad thing, but when it involves the health and wellbeing of the horse, asking a well-educated professional must be the best choice.
- Horse owners should be using an evidence-based approach to sifting the proverbial wheat from the chaff and be more accountable for suggestions they give people on Facebook groups.
It would be a good start to acknowledge that having had one horse with a vaguely similar complaint does not make a person experienced. Becoming educated through well-regarded resources is the best thing horse owners can do for the animals in their care.