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BHS Welfare Conference 2015: Unlocking the Secrets of Horse Behaviour

22 Oct 2015

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Until horses learn to talk, we'll never fully understand what they are thinking and feeling. However, through the application of science and experience our knowledge of equine behaviour has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years.

Anybody involved in horses should make an effort to understand the behaviour – doing so can improve performance, eliminate problematic characteristics and, most importantly, improve the horse’s welfare.  
This is why the BHS is excited to announce its 2015 Welfare Conference - Unlocking the Secrets of Horse Behaviour - which is being held on Thursday 22 October at Aintree Racecourse.

This year’s conference will be chaired by Professor Natalie Waran, Director of the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh. The impressive roster of speakers will ensure that there is something for everybody to learn and includes:

•    Dr Joe Pagan of Kentucky Equine Research will be the keynote speaker, offering British delegates the rare chance to hear one of the world’s most eminent equine researchers.
•    Dr Sebastian McBride will be presenting on his extensive research into equine stereotypical behaviour.
•    Dr Matthew Leach of Newcastle University’s Centre for Behaviour and Evolution will talk about the development of The Horse Grimace Scale.
•    Welfare veterinary surgeons Nic De Brauwere and Roxane Kirton of Redwings Horse Sanctuary will discuss the management of problem behaviours in both working horses and welfare cases.
•    Renowned horseman and foundation horse trainer Jason Webb will provide a practical demonstration focusing on the retraining of racehorses.

Tickets cost just £30 each. As well as providing such an outstanding lineup of speakers, the ticket price also includes refreshments and lunch.

Speaker Profiles

Dr Joe Pagan

BSA degree in animal nutrition, University of Arkansas
MS & PhD in equine nutrition and exercise physiology, Cornell University
Founder and President of Kentucky Equine Research


Dr Pagan is a worldwide renowned expert in nutrition and physiology. Establishing Kentucky Equine Research (KER) in 1988, it quickly formed the basis to be an international research, consulting and product development firm dealing in the areas of equine nutrition and sports medicine. KER served as equine nutrition consultants for the last five Olympic Games and is the official equine nutritionist of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). KER is internationally recognised and works directly with feed manufacturers in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Dr Pagan has been involved with hundreds of published studies. He travels the world to present at conferences to help bridge the gap between science and educating the equine industry and horse owners on the latest findings and how best to implement new feeding strategies. Research aims to encompass all types of horses from those involved with competition, racing, breeding but also the leisure, elderly and retired horses.

Dr Pagan received the 2005 American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) Award in Equine Nutrition Research. This award recognises excellence in equine nutrition research and the contributions of an individual to equine feeding management practices and the equine feed industry.

Dr Matthew Leach

Zoology degree – University of Southampton 1992
MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour & Welfare – University of Edinburgh 1995
PhD in Laboratory Animal Welfare – University of Birmingham


Dr Leach is a Lecturer at the Centre for Behaviour & Evolution, Newcastle University. His areas of expertise include lecturing on various aspects of animal welfare, companion animal science, project design and statistics. Dr Leach is also responsible for the supervision of undergraduate, post-graduate and post-doctoral research projects.

Dr Leach has a considerable amount of published research which focusses on:
•    Developing methods for assessing and alleviating post-procedure pain and distress in a range of animal species including rodents, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and horses.
•    Identifying and implementing novel methods of assessing welfare, pain and distress in animals, particularly laboratory and companion animal species.
•    Identifying, testing and implementing refinements to improve the welfare of a range of animal species.
•    The development of educational materials to assist those who carry out procedures on animals in both veterinary practice and in animal-based research to refine the procedure that they carry out to improve welfare standards.

Dr Leach has received honours and awards including the Significant contribution to the FELASA Animal Welfare Award 2007 and Significant contribution to the Charles River Animal Welfare Prize 2012.

Dr Sebastian McBride

PhD in abnormal equine behaviour, University of Edinburgh
BSc Zoology, University of Liverpool


Following the completion of his PhD, Dr McBride has completed extensive research investigating repetitive behavioural disorders in animals. Dr McBride's research also includes learning behaviour as well as computer models of brain systems to help improve our understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved.

Dr McBride now works at the University of Cambridge where he is responsible for developing cognitive tests as markers for normal and abnormal brain function in sheep. Dr McBride is also an Associate Lecturer for Equine Science at Aberystwyth University.

Dr McBride has presented several papers at international conferences and written a number of articles for both the scientific and general press on equine behaviour. Dr McBride was the behaviourist representative on the BHS Equine Health and Welfare Advisory Committee for seven years.

Jason Webb

Renowned Horseman and foundation horse trainer

Jason Webb grew up on his family’s 4,000 acre sheep and cattle property in New South Wales, Australia, and it was here that his lifelong study of horse behaviour began. Jason developed an all-round equestrian education including working the farm from horseback and competing at Pony Club, show jumping, polocrosse and rodeo.

In his early teens, Jason was taught to start young horses using the same methods handed down through the generations of horsemen in his family. Jason developed a particular interest in this area of work and spent time working with top competitors and trainers in Australia where he improved his understanding of horse behaviour and remedial work with problem horses.

Having competed at the highest level at polocrosse in Australia, Jason travelled to the UK to play and coach but soon become a much sought-after horse trainer and horse behaviourist in the South East Region. Jason quickly gained a reputation for producing calm and well-mannered horses and also for having the ability to reform horses with severe behavioural and ridden problems.

In 2002, Jason settled in the UK and set up his business, Australian Horsemanship. Jason and his team now work with over 150 horses a year, from professional riders, studs and private owners nationwide. He also regularly receives referrals from vets, farriers, equine dentists and other equestrian professionals.

Jason travels nationwide for consultations, teaching clinics and demonstrations including Your Horse Live for the last four years. Jason also produces articles for magazines including Your Horse, Horse & Rider and Horsemanship Journal and online for Horse & Country TV and HorseHero and blogs for Horse and Hound.

Professor Natalie Waran

As Director of the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Professor Waran works on a truly international scale. The work Professor Waran and her colleagues aim to achieve here in the UK and overseas is focussed on raising awareness of animal welfare issues particularly within veterinary education and to raise the skills, knowledge and confidence for veterinary graduates in this area of work.

Professor Waran has led and been involved in an extensive range of research resulting in more than 100 scientific publications.  Research areas include welfare issues associated with agricultural animals and the assessment of conditions for companion, zoo and laboratory animals.

Professor Waran is one of the founder members and Honorary Fellows of the International Society for Equitation Science and is currently a Trustee for the international animal welfare charity The Brooke.

Nicolas De Brauwere MRCVS

Nic graduated as a veterinary surgeon in 1991 from Onderstepoort in South Africa and has worked at Redwings Horse Sanctuary for 24 years, providing clinical services, herd health management and equine welfare case work both to facilitate rescue and alleviate the need for it.

As Head of Welfare and Behaviour at Redwings, Nic leads a team that is uniquely placed to deal with behavioural issues within a welfare context. The charity has specialised in the rescue, rehabilitation and long-term care of feral, unhandled or abused horses for more than a decade and this extensive experience has fundamentally informed their approach not only to behaviour and training but to equines themselves.

In addition to first-hand experience of innate and learned equine behaviour, Nic also became increasingly interested in recent evidence-based research in this area. As a scientist and a welfare professional it was natural to him to draw on this body of information in order to develop new ways of supporting horses, both those in Redwings’ care and ones they interact with through our work in the field. If new evidence on laminitis or colic became available, he would jump on it, and sees positive equine welfare as much about psychological as physical wellbeing.

Roxane Kirton MRCVS

Roxane has worked as a vet with Redwings’ Welfare and Behaviour team since 2007, having qualified as a veterinary surgeon at Glasgow University in 2005. She grew up with horses and has always been interested in the broader welfare issues that affect what she sees as a vet.

Providing clinical care to the nervous, abused and completely unhandled equines that come into Redwings is an invaluable experience, if not always for the faint-hearted. Many come into the sanctuary in urgent need of care and the team needs to treat them as effectively as possible while minimising stress to the animal. This has put behaviour and handling issues at the centre of their success as clinicians in a welfare environment.

Roxane is also very interested in social behaviour and the innate equine drives that are often not fully considered in the management of domestic horses. Current research into equine behaviour is providing a wealth of new scientific evidence which is informing and complementing Redwings’ ethos when planning the care of both individual equines and social groups. Roxane firmly believes that an evidence-based approach to horse behaviour and handling has the potential to fundamentally improve welfare across the equine industry and enable owners to develop more effective and enjoyable interaction with their own horses.

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