The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Traveller and Gypsy-owned horses well cared for, study finds

Assessment reveals UK and Irish Travellers and Gypsies’ horses benefit from good health and welfare.

Gypsies’ and Traveller’s horses enjoy good welfare, according to research in the communities.

A study of more than 100 horses owned by Travellers and Gypsies in the UK and Ireland found that the animals’ health and welfare was of a good standard and owners were invested in their care and wellbeing.

The study, by the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Scotland’s Rural College, is the first of its type to measure the welfare of Gypsy and Travellers’ horses, and the results challenge perceptions from previous studies of standards of care in horses in these settings.

Horse assessment

Researchers assessed the health and wellbeing of 104 horses at horse fairs, owners’ homes and yards in the UK and Ireland, collecting data over a two-year period.

They developed a horse welfare protocol to evaluate horse health and behaviour, provision of resources and management. This was based on measures that were relevant to Traveller and Gypsy-owned horses.

The team also developed a qualitative behaviour assessment tool, with input from Traveller horse owners, seeking to score each horse on their body language, as a measure of their emotional and physical condition.

Overall, health and welfare of horses assessed in the study was found to be of a good standard and their emotional state was positive.

Researchers found links between welfare and mood, such as improved mood among horses who had good access to drinking water.

Management practices were often related to the natural behaviour and environment of the horse.

The outcomes also highlighted factors that are risks to horse welfare, such as hoof care – this was the most frequent welfare issue seen in the study, however, this welfare issue is also found in many other equine populations.

Researchers say the involvement of Traveller and Gypsy communities in generating criteria for the assessment of horses and by participating in this study indicates that they are invested in their animals’ welfare.

The research outcomes provide a good starting point on which to engage with stakeholders who have identified Traveller and Gypsies’ horses to be vulnerable to poor welfare, researchers say.

In addition, the findings will allow the development of targeted interventions, based on the findings, to address those areas where horse welfare was considered to be suboptimal.

The study, published in Animal, was funded by The Horse Trust, Scotland’s Rural College and the University of Edinburgh.

Our findings show that Traveller and Gypsy-owned horses are well looked after, contrary to perceptions from previous research. These results, from the first study of its kind, show that Traveller and Gypsy-owned horses are well cared for and enjoy good health and welfare. This is a positive outcome and a significant step in increasing awareness of the true extent of horse welfare concerns in Traveller and Gypsy-owned horses.

Dr Marie RowlandRoyal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Scotland's Rural College

Related links

Scientific publication

About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.    

The School comprises:   

  The Roslin Institute   

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems   

The Roslin Innovation Centre   

The Hospital for Small Animals   

Equine Veterinary Services   

Farm Animal Services   

Easter Bush Pathology   

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education   

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.