Myerscough College student Natalie Owen has been named winner of the 2018 BETA Equine Thesis of the Year award for her dissertation.
Her theses: An Investigation into How Judgements are Formed Regarding Acceptable Quality of Life of Leisure Horses was a winning entry.
She joined the competition’s three other finalists – Laura De’Ath, of Harper Adams University, Maureen Cunningham, of the University of Limerick, and Caitlyn Cuthbert, of Writtle University College – at the De Vere Staverton Estate Hotel, near Daventry, Northamptonshire, on Sunday 28 October to present her thesis to the judging panel and audience of academics and industry representatives.
Natalie’s dissertation, which sought to challenge common perceptions and traditional views on how we judge whether horses enjoy a good quality of life, was declared the winner by the judges – research consultant Dr Georgina Crossman, equine nutritionist Katie Williams, ETN editor Liz Benwell and vet Karen Coumbe.
The winning student’s undergraduate work focused on understanding owner views and attitudes to management practices. Many owners, she suggested, “humanise” their horses by regarding stables as a “bedroom” where they put them to bed at night.
“I am in shock and didn’t expect to win,” said Natalie, who graduated in July. “I decided to do my thesis on this subject following a conversation about zoo animals being kept in cages and I realised that, to a certain extent, horses stabled for long periods of time are effectively caged.
“Without plenty of turnout, some horses are kept in near-isolation. Management practice is key to ensuring horses have a good quality of life. A horse’s change of status from wild animal to pet has seen them being treated in a way that does not fit with how they have evolved to behave.”
Dr Georgina Crossman, chair of the judging panel, praised each of the finalists on the high standard of their work but said the decision to make Natalie the winner was unanimous. “Her exploration of the views of quality of life in leisure horses utilised a novel methodology, identifying a number of themes that owners felt illustrated an ‘excellent’ quality of life,” she said. “Natalie presented her findings clearly, comprehensively exploring their relevance to the equine sector, including welfare implications.”
Claire Williams, executive director of the British Equestrian Trade Association, added: “We were tremendously impressed with the high calibre of undergraduate work and thoroughly enjoyed listening to each presentation. Our congratulations go to Natalie, with very best wishes for the future. The BETA Equine Thesis of the Year Award continues to grow in strength and popularity, and we are extremely grateful to the universities and colleges that have taken part. Thanks must also go to our judges, who give up huge amounts of their time to consider all entries. Without their knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment to academic excellence, none of this would be possible.”