Data gathering project launches to improve equine welfare

Published on February 16, 2019

The Equine Welfare Data Collective launched a metrics gathering effort Nov. 1, 2018, to better understand at-risk and transitioning equids.

Specifically, a group of agencies is collecting national data from transition centers, adoption centers, rescue operations, sanctuaries, shelters, and other organizations involved in equine welfare. Initially, the agencies will collect and share information on factors such as capacity, current populations, intakes, and outcomes, according to the collective's website.

"Our overall goal is to understand the progress and identify opportunities within the industry so organizations can develop sustainable programs," said Emily Stearns, program manager for EWDC.

The hope is to aggregate enough data by mid-January to have a statistically viable sample size to be able to do an analysis. Then, the plan is to launch surveys biannually to track trends, Stearns said.

For rescue operations, sanctuaries, and shelters, the project will identify program and community needs on a regional level. For funders and on a national level, the hope is that the data will provide needed insight within the horse industry, she added.

The EWDC was created by the Unwanted Horse Coalition, a program under the American Horse Council.

The initiative received initial funding of $20,000 each from the Right Horse Initiative, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation. All three will continue to provide funds to the project as the AHC solicits other funding and sponsors, said Emily Weiss, PhD, vice president of ASPCA Equine Welfare.

Woman with bridled horse
The equine industry doesn't have solid data on basic information such as how many horses are coming into rescue operations, sanctuaries, and shelters each year, said Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Equine Welfare department. The ASPCA is one of the funding organizations behind the Equine Welfare Data Collective. (Courtesy of ASPCA)

"As funders and industry professionals, we identified a need for accurate and credible data, and we see it as our responsibility to understand the issues and provide needed insight to guide future strategy," said Dr. Weiss. "I am most excited about the simple fact that groups that have not previously worked together—AAEPF, AHC, ASPCA, and the Right Horse—have committed to working collaboratively toward a shared goal. This collaborative approach is exactly what's needed to make real change for equines."

The initial purpose of the project is to establish baseline data.

"Most of the aggregate data that everyone is operating off (of)—and by everyone I mean rescues, shelters, and funders—is anecdotal. We don't feel like we have good-quality data to even decide what future programs may be needed," Stearns said.

For the initiative to be successful, organizations need to submit data to the project. Results will remain anonymous with no identifying factors for organizations contributing data.

"I come from the data scientist side of it," said Stearns. "So, personally (one of the challenges) is making sure you reach the appropriate sample size. Turnaround times and getting groups to respond is the big thing—if you can get the conversation started, they (usually) are pretty excited to contribute."

The survey is online and has questions such as "Does your organization have a microchipping program?" and "How many horses did you take in during a specific range of time?"

Any organization that contributes data will receive the compiled results first.

Related JAVMA content:

An unwanted battle (Feb. 15, 2011)

Caring for those that carry the load (Feb. 01, 2010)