The Animal Transportation Association conference opened with four keynote speakers discussing improvements in animal welfare across the spectrum of transportation (ground, air, and ship).

Some of the speakers addressed the importance of continuing to address concerns by animal rights organizations by promoting a positive, honest message of what animal transportation really looks like in pictures, videos, and public-service type messages. This way, owners will have more consistent and correct, and credible, understanding of what their horse (or other animal, from rabbit to lion) is going through when it’s loaded onto an airplane or a ground transporter.

Dr. Ed Pajor spoke on the emerging social changes in the area of animal welfare and identified some of the new emphasis we owners have on the mind, along with the nature of animals. He argued that, while there are extremists out there on both side (from those that give animals no recognition for having emotions and feelings to those who anthropomorphize or give them full human rights), that most of us land somewhere in the middle and just want our animals treated with dignity and in a hygienic, comfortable and humane manner.

More owners are asking for a benchmark for animal welfare and good assessment tools to determine whether an animal is having a positive experience or not. This is a major change in our attitudes from the past. The psychological health of an animal was not much of a concern until the 1950s, when zoos started to realize how important it was to address wild animals’ attempts to cope with their environments.

This impacts us as horse owners, because we commonly put horses into environments (stalls especially) that go against their natural instincts and act out their natural behaviors with other horses in a herd.

I welcome your comments and discussion. What is right? Where do we draw the line? Is it cruel to put a horse in a stall (even with the best of feed, bedding, and water)? Is it unethical to make a horse cope with our needs (riding, showing, etc.)? Is it cruel to put a horse into a moving transport box (trailer or float) for 10 minutes or many hours on the way to the show or the veterinarian?

These are the kinds of questions we must discuss and resolve within ourselves and our horse community. We need to set relevant and enforceable standards of care, while having the chance to interact and enjoy our precious animals.