Waikanae Professor talks Horse Welfare

Local Waikanae resident, Professor David Mellor provided a stimulating address on Horse Welfare to the Kāpiti Rotary Club recently.

Dr Mellor is currently the Director of Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre of the Veterinary Science Department at Massey University. He graduated in Science with the New England University Australia, and completed his PhD with Edinburgh University. Following a period of 18 years as Head of the Physiology Department at the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh, he joined Massey University as Professor and Head of the Physiology Department of the Veterinary Science Department. He continues to be a full-time Professor and lecturer at Massey. He was appointed to the position of Chairman of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee by the Minister of Agriculture in 1999, and still holds that post.

His address to the Rotarians focused primarily on horse-riding, and the manner in which bridles and bits have effect on the mouths of horses. He pointed out that bits are inserted in the interdental space between the front and back teeth directly on the gum, which can cause significant pain and constriction of breathing. Bits create a tendency for breathing through the horses nose, and taking into consideration that their breathing rate is between 1800 to 2000 of air litres per minute, much stress is caused to the nasal passage.

All facets of horse sporting activities, including racing; trotting; dressage; jumping; and working (draught) horses; activities are currently considering the introduction of ‘bitless’ bridles, as a remedy to bringing about better performance via proper breathing in the animals. Some countries such as the Netherlands and Canada have separate bitless events, as a trial comparison with the original steering methods.

“With a bit in its mouth, a horse grinds teeth, and has discomfort as a result. Although it may look good in dressage, a horse will tend to bend the head down to reduce pain. Bitless bridles allow a horse to function naturally, by breathing with its mouth shut. The horse industry is largely resistant to bitless bridles as they believe that this reduces the ability to control the animal,” said Dr Mellor.