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Tricks of the Trade; The Five Domains Versus the Five Freedoms

Behaviourist Jenni Nellist shares her go-to equine behaviour problem solving strategies for success. As featured in Welsh Rider Magazine.

You have probably noticed RSPCA’s Freedom Food brand. It’s based on the concept of Five Freedoms, introduced by animal welfare scientists in the 1960s. The idea is to protect animals from bad welfare by ensuring they are free from: hunger, thirst and malnutrition; pain, injury and disease; discomfort; and distress; and free to perform normal behaviour. Abnormal, repetitive behaviours indicate bad welfare in intensively housed animals, including horses.

But, how realistic is it to be completely free from all harm and be free to do what you want?

It isn’t, so it isn’t completely practical when assessing and improving welfare conditions for your horse. So, welfare boffin, Prof. David Mellor and his colleagues set up the Five Domains.

  1. Nutrition (need for correct nutrition)

  2. Health (need for correct health care)

  3. Environment (need for a correct environment)

  4. Behaviour (need to perform usual behaviour)

Feeding into:

5. Mental (how the individual feels)

Crucially they ask how the animal experiences each of the first four domains - how they feel about their various situations. Those feelings are pooled in domain five, the Mental Domain and the balance of positive to negative experiences weighed up. Animals with good welfare have more positive experiences than negative ones, and they can control the negative ones.

Provide positive experiences and decrease negative ones while also making them more controllable for the horse, and you have the best horse welfare you can possibly deliver. This is what I help owners, including leading equine welfare charities, deliver through my behavioural work.

Jenni Nellist is an Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist and a Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. Please visit the website or call Jenni’s assistant Jo Priede on 07421 828742

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