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RIYAD: Horse racing and equestrian activities are often described as the ‘sport of kings’, so it’s surprising to learn that the health and comfort of animals at the center of this multi-billion dollar global industry is sometimes wrong. understood or even ignored. .
Kirsten Hanin Johnston, an American specialist in stable and horse management, highlighted the biosecurity issue around horse breeding and cautioned against what she describes as a “knowledge vacuum” in a number of problems in the field.
Good stable management is the main factor in protecting the health of horses and preventing the introduction or spread of pests, she said.
Johnston, who is currently based in Riyadh, said horses differ from other animals in that their digestive systems are extremely sensitive and “can be disturbed by slight changes in diet, meal schedule, exercise, water and many other factors that are managed in the stable.
Sudden or inappropriate changes can cause illness or colic, she said.
“Best practice suggests that a stable should have frequent educational programs for employees in order to elevate the overall function of the stable and create more reliable services for the horses,” said Johnston.
“Many managers assign certain roles to each groom, and it is also wise to assign a groom to around six to eight horses,” she added.
Johnston’s interest in horses began at a young age in Germany, where she attended equestrian competitions with her grandmother. However, his formal training in stable management began in 2018 at the University of Guelph in Canada.
After being asked to support the management of several small stables in Riyadh, she began offering advice on horse health and management through channels such as WhatsApp groups, onsite conferences, private consultations and Instagram.
“I am not looking for a stable full-time managerial position that would require a full-time commitment,” she told Arab News. “I will be able to apply for this after I graduate and get certified. “
Johnston focuses on nutritional imbalances in horses, as well as injuries and hoof maintenance.
She also offers advice on stable management and warns that poor biosecurity measures can lead to disease outbreaks and even horse deaths.
As horses are frequently transported across the world for sports or shows, protective controls are essential to control the spread of disease from one continent to another.
Poor management of stables, like dirty stalls with strong ammonia fumes, can cause respiratory problems or hoof disease, she said.
An inferior stable design can also threaten the safety and health of horses. If the ground is slippery, for example, falls can cause serious injury to horses and riders. Small stall sizes can cause emotional distress in horses, which have to move around throughout the day.
In a recent case, Johnston visited a stable where the stalls were less than 3 square meters. A horse had overturned and was unable to stand because its legs were stuck against a wall. The same horse was coughing from the lack of fresh air in the stall and the overwhelming smell of ammonia.
Horses raised in poorly managed stables tend to suffer from mental and physical illnesses, she said.
Johnston said owners should take responsibility for the operation of their stables and educate themselves on the proper biosecurity and health guidelines to maintain or improve the health of their horses.
Stable owners must understand the behavior and needs of the horse and work closely with the administrative team, who rely on the grooms for information on animal welfare.
The main challenge for stable owners in Saudi Arabia is the availability of trained grooms to oversee day-to-day care, Johnston said.
Other issues include the availability and rising costs of supplies, such as grain, hay, and wood chips.
Medical supplies are often unavailable and there is a lack of trained vets and clinics capable of handling difficult cases at reasonable prices.
“We’re limited to three or four hospitals across the country, and areas like Jazan don’t have medical services. In most cases, owners have limited resources and the horses die. This can be a crisis for any horse owner, and some of these horses are valued at over SR1 million ($ 266,370). Such a loss is difficult.
Johnston warns that there is “a knowledge vacuum when it comes to feeding schedules, types of food, drug use, especially antibiotics, dewormers, imidocarb for parasites and hormones. to accelerate the swelling of muscles or the growth of foals “.
Additionally, poor riding skills and the lack of safety protocols can lead to serious injury or death to horses and riders.
“Some of our most pressing concerns as owners and managers are disease control, particularly colic during the summer months when the heat and in some places the extra humidity, coupled with an overload of grain. , can cause death, ”she said.
“It all comes down to educating owners, riders, managers and grooms to promote the welfare and safety of horses. “