MSU – EQWIS (Equine Welfare Intervention Strategy)

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EQWIS-ACTION is a ten-day intervention strategy designed to investigate the welfare of working horses, to develop realistic solutions to critical welfare issues facing these horses (e.g. inappropriate food and water intake, harness lesions), and to help educate the owners of these working horses to improve husbandry procedures. This work is a collaborative effort launched by animal scientists, veterinarians, and local community members from Michigan State University (East Lansing, USA) and the University of Passo Fundo (Passo Fundo, Brazil) to enhance the welfare of working horses in Brazil.

What does ACTION stand for?

A– Assessment of welfare
C– Compilation of data
T– Tailoring intervention
I– Implementation of strategy
O– Organization of local networks
N– Targeting the Next population

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The first intervention took place in Cachoeirinha (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) from January 2nd to January 13, 2003. The target population was chosen based on the estimate that Porto Alegre and nearby districts, such as Cachoeirinha, has more than 6,000 horses hauling garbage, collecting recycling material, and/or used as transport.

EQWIS team:

Members of the Animal Behavior and Welfare Group from Michigan State University, veterinarians from the Department of Health of Cachoerinha and veterinary students from the University of Passo Fundo constituted the group who initiated the “action”.

Data collection:

In order to obtain information on the welfare of working horses in Cachoeirinha, data was first gathered through interviews with horse owners and by examining their horses. Fourteen owners of 24 working horses from two villages near Cachoeirinha were interviewed using a questionnaire soliciting information on feeding practices, workload, healthcare, stabling, and other important husbandry issues. The 24 horses were then clinically examined and inspected for the presence of harness lesions (number and location), body score condition (Henneke et al., 1983) and lameness (Swanson, 1984).

In a second approach, 110 working horses in Porto Alegre were randomly selected and data was collected while these horses were working. Information, such as the type of work performed (e.g. hauling garbage, recycling and transportation), type of gait during work, attitude (e.g. alert, quiet), coat characteristics (e.g. color markings for future identification), presence of harness lesions and age of the owner were compiled using a standard form.


The EQWIS team developed the first edition of the “Cartilha do Carroceiro”, a booklet containing information concerning equine husbandry and nutrition. This booklet was distributed to horse owners during a workshop organized in the villages, which provided information on equine welfare and husbandry to interested owners.


Over 50% of the horses in Porto Alegre and Cachoerinha showed evidence of poor welfare in forms of harness lesions, inadequate nutrition (low body condition scores), inadequate water intake (dehydration), and lameness.

Horse owners were eager to learn proper husbandry procedures, which could improve their horses’ welfare, when information and resources (e.g. tetanus vaccination, deworming and mineral supplement) were made available during the workshop. Monitoring visit to the villages was scheduled 4 months after the initial EQWIS intervention followed by regular visits every 2 months.

The first monitoring visit after intervention showed an overall improvement in the welfare of the horses. There was a significant improvement in body score condition (3.5 to 5.5; p<0.05), a supplementation with mineral salt was implemented and there was an increase in water intake from the horses.

During the first monitoring visit, all horses participating on EQWIS were dewormed, vaccinated against tetanus and tattooed (freeze branding technique) for identification during following visits. Blood and feces were collected for leptospirosis and parasites evaluation. All horses demonstrated high leptospirosis levels in their blood and a prominent parasitic count on their fecal samples suggesting that further deworming and strategy to control leptospirosis would be beneficial.

needs funds to continue helping needy working horses and their owners. Financial support will be used to ward:

Training center: A center will be an educational base for improving knowledge in husbandry procedures in the target population and to instruct people about equine welfare.

Horse transportation: A trailer is essential for transporting sick and/or injured horses to veterinary hospitals.

Scholarships for student workers: Funding for veterinary students from University of Passo Fundo who will monitor the animals every 2 months.

Veterinary care: Funds to cover the costs of clinical treatments needed by the working horses.

Expertise: Salary for a full-time professional responsible for training owners and instructing welfare team

Teaching material: Editing and production of equine husbandry instruction booklet for both adults and children


04/09/2003 – MSU-EQWIS meeting at EXPOINTER (International Animal Exposition, Porto Alegre, RS, Brasil):
EXPOINTER is the largest animal exposition in Latin America. Throughout the 9 days of exposition, approximately 2.3 thousand animals, veterinarian products, agricultural equipments and others are displayed emphasizing the technological advances of agriculture in each production segment. Currently, the most important updates in agriculture technology in Brazil occur at EXPOINTER.

The meeting promoted at EXPOINTER introduced the project to potential Brazilian and international sponsors. To accomplish a better understanding of EQWIS project by the participants, a set of presentations were carried out by the EQWIS team including Dr. Adroaldo Zanella, Ricardo Zanella (Vet student from University of Passo Fundo), Dr. Maria Lucia da Luz (veterinarian from Department of Health of Cachoeirinha), Patricia E. de Almeida (veterinarian, PhD student at ABWG-MSU) and Eraldo Zanella (veterinarian, Prof. of Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology at the University of Passo Fundo). The presentations highlighted the importance of EQWIS in rehabilitating welfare of working horses in Porto Alegre and vicinity districts, and as an efficient tool to educate the working horses’ owners to improve equine husbandry and welfare.

In this meeting, the mayor of the city of Cachoeirinha and the Research coordinator of University of Passo Fundo signed a legal document certifying their partnership as facilitators for the development of EQWIS. In addition, partial funds regarding student scholarships, and mineral supplementation to the horses were obtained.


Henneke, DR, Potter GD, Kreider JL, and Yeates BF (1983) Relationship between condition score, physical measurement and body fat percentage in mares. Eq. Vet. J, 15:371-372.
Swanson, TD (1984) Guide for Veterinary Service and Judging of Equestrian Events, 3rd ed. Golden, CO: AAEP

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