PROGRESS AND STRUGGLE IN SENIOR HORSE CARE
Equus|Winter 2020
A study from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University confirms what many dedicated horse owners have long known: Caring for a geriatric horse with a chronic health condition can be a significant physical and emotional burden.
Christine Barakat and Mick McCluskey, BVSc, MACVSc

“The idea of caregiver burden is a topic only recently studied in companion animals and now horses,” says Seana DowlingGuyer, MS, at Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy. “This probably relates to our complicated relationship with them. Horses serve different purposes and often fill multiple roles ranging from sports athlete to pleasure ride to companion. Some horses are cared for by their owners but others are looked after by other people. That likely moderates the experience of caregiving. Like smaller companion animals, horses are living longer than ever before and have many more treatment and care options. Caretakers may struggle with decisions related to these options.”

The researchers used online questionnaires to gather information from 1,448 owners of geriatric horses, asking specifically about the oldest horse in the respondent’s care. The questionnaire was designed to gather information on the health status of the horse, the perceived physical care burden ---the “time, cost and labor taken to manage an older horse,” according to the study---and the perceived emotional care burden, described by researchers as “various stressors experienced by the caregiver that can include heavy workload, feelings of depression and guilt, and communication difficulties, which may result in emotional limits to one’s coping ability.” For the purposes of the study, a chronic condition was defined as any health issue lasting more than three months.

The survey also included questions addressing the level of attachment between the horse and the person, veterinary care decisions, any traumatic events involving the horse and the emotional reaction to the death of the horse.

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