3 min read
Horse experiencing improved health due to evidence-based changes

New Year, New Habits: Making Evidence-Based Changes for Horse Health

Written by: Abby Hookey BSc(hons) PGDip MSc RD

A new year comes new (or old) resolutions; whether your resolution is around diet and/or exercise most of us tend to make lifestyle based resolutions. Whilst changes aren’t always bad – we’re creatures of habit and evidence has highlighted that on average it takes us 66 days (the range was 18-245 days) to form a new habit. We need to be ready to make a change, we need to want to make the change and we need to be motivated; there will always be barriers that get in the way and these need to be identified and we need to work with them as more often than not they won’t go away.

The question is how long do we stick to them and what do we base our resolutions on? As a dietitian I often hear lifestyle changes are often based on something a friend has tried, maybe something we have read about or something we have done in the past that made us feel better so we’ll try it again. As horse enthusiasts, do we ever make the same resolutions for our 4 legged friends? If so, what evidence do we base it on?

Making lifestyle changes is difficult, as highlighted above, we don’t often make a lifestyle decision for ourselves based on evidence and that same (albeit anecdotally) can also be said for our furry friends. We often try and look after our pets better than we do ourselves but are the changes we make based on scientific evidence? A brief look on any advice forum (human or equine) and there are plenty of advice givers based on their own tried and tested remedies, rather than scientific advice.

However, there are some advice givers who also feel the scientific evidence isn’t impartial. This may be due to particular source of funding for a piece of research. This also occurs in humans, particularly regarding different diets. There are a huge number of different messages regarding health and nutrition for horses and it can be overwhelming. In the world of human nutrition, I often have patients who aren’t sure where to start when it comes to making changes. Scientific evidence is there to protect us as horse owners and more often than not it can also help us save money in the long run! Regardless of funding source in order for research to be published in a reputable journal it goes through a rigorous process.

Whilst there’s an awareness that not everything has been researched it’s important that before embarking on any change we do our research and feel fully informed. Ideally the research should come from a reputable source such as a published veterinary journal or qualified professional such as your vet who you can always ask to be sign posted to more information.
It’s important to be open to new ideas but use several sources to piece together the picture. In science and medicine its rarely black and white our understanding is constantly evolving as we learn more - No one paper tells the whole story! If in doubt seek the advice of professional.

Nilsen P, Roback K, Brostrom A and Ellstrom PK (2012) Creatures of habit: accounting for the role of habit implementation research on clinical behaviour change. Implementation Science. 7:53

Lally P, van Jaarsveld CHM, Potts WWH and Wardle J (2009) How habits are formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology. 40(6)998-1009.


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