The Donkey Sanctuary has teamed up with World Horse Welfare and the European Draught Horse Federation, to launch a new website that aims to share the best practice for owners of working equids, highlighting the benefits they offer to communities across the world, while promoting their responsible use and care.

Alongside working with European harness manufacturers, the designers of the website consulted Amish communities in the USA. The Amish are well known for their use of equine power over petrol horsepower, favouring a more traditional method of transport and working their land. The communities still rely heavily on their working horses, mules and donkeys, and were able to provide vital information and guidance.

Commenting on the new website, Dr Leopoldo Stuardo from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said: “The Equid Power Network provides a mechanism which helps those responsible for the care of working equids to implement provisions.”

The OIE’s Terrestrial Animal Health Code contains a specific chapter focused on working equids. The chapter emphasises the importance of good handling and management practices to ensure that farriery and harnessing are done responsibly, thereby promoting good animal welfare for working equids.

Healthy working equids play a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as defined by the United Nations. The Equid Power Network is aiming to raise the profile of working equids by promoting their potential and in turn, protect their welfare by highlighting the contributions they make to communities around the world.

The vast majority of the world’s 100 million working equids are essential to some of the poorest communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Equids are traditionally labelled as the beast of burden and their hard-working traits are often taken advantage of, and their socio-economic value taken for granted but working donkeys, mules and horses improve the lives of countless numbers of people, especially in rural or disadvantaged areas.

By providing effective affordable harnessing, welfare education and vet care, owners can be empowered to keep their working equids healthy and ensure their continued productive benefit.

Dr Joao Rodrigues, Senior Lead - Welfare Assessment at The Donkey Sanctuary said: “The Equid Power Network is a unique project bringing together a number of different organisations. Working equids provide invaluable help to millions of people worldwide, having a central role in their lives. The improvement of the working conditions of these animals, through the use of correct harness and implements, is fundamental to improve animal welfare.

“The development of a comprehensive database, where manufacturers from all over the world are listed, will help to promote the use of professional animal-friendly equipment, as well as best practices where the dignity and physical limits of working equids are fully respected.”  

Vicki Newton, World Horse Welfare’s Senior International Programme Officer commented: “We are delighted to be a part of the Equid Power Network and are very grateful to all those that have contributed to the development of the website and wider initiative. We hope that such a comprehensive database will support those who rely upon working equids used for traction around the world to make informed and accessible choices in the harnesses and equipment that they use, in order to protect and promote the welfare of their animals.

“World Horse Welfare’s international programme continues to work across three continents to support equid owning communities. We are pleased to share what we have learnt from working with harness-makers, service providers and owners over many years in order to further support this project, and we look forward to the continued development of scientific research and understanding in this area to develop practical solutions which make tangible and long-lasting benefits to the welfare of working equids and their owners.       

Pit Schlechter from the European Draught Horse Federation (FECTU) said: “This is a big step forward for people who continue or start to rely on the energy of more than one hundred million working horses, donkeys and mules.”

Pit concludes: “Moreover, providing information about the most modern equipment available for animal traction is only one of the assets of this project. It also will be a huge source of knowledge and inspiration for those who will discover that a new generation of manufacturers succeed in developing equipment that combines efficiency, user friendliness and high standards of animal welfare. In this way, the Equid Power Network will continue to raise the profile of animal traction.”

The European Draught Horse Federation is an international umbrella-organisation, aiming to encourage cooperation between those European organisations involved in the promotion and advancement of working heavy horses and other draught animals.

The Association also participates in the preservation of the common European draught animal heritage, and in the promotion of both working and leisure use of these animals, paying particular attention to sound working practices with regard to animals and the humans involved, and the environment.

For more information, visit the Equid Power Network website.