Improving welfare with Brooke-developed assessment tool

Q: What can help us understand this animal’s welfare needs in just 10 minutes?

The world's furthest reaching welfare assessment tool

It takes just 10 minutes to assess the welfare of a working horse or donkey using Brooke’s standardised equine-based welfare assessment tool (SEBWAT). Developed in 2010, this powerful tool evolved from the Working Equine Welfare Assessment, the result of an earlier collaboration between Brooke and Bristol University. 

Between 2010 and 2016 SEBWAT was used over 71,000 times across 11 countries. Brooke has now made public a summary of what was learned during that time, including SEBWAT’s main benefits and limitations, and how it may develop in the future.

Why good quality assessment is important

Brooke works in a diverse range of countries so assessment tools need to be easy to use where there are limited resources, often in difficult to reach locations. They must also be quick to use to minimise the time the animal and/or owner is not working.  And they should be transferable across different countries so they don’t need to be adapted or changed.

While assessment might not sound like the most exciting part of our work, welfare has to be measured so that it can be improved and managed, and SEBWAT is one of Brooke’s key ways of measuring working equine welfare. It collects important evidence for identifying where our interventions are needed, and then tracks their progress. It also helps to:

  • prioritise which welfare issues to address first
  • inform government and institutional policy on animal welfare
  • support field research.

Improving the lives of both animals and people

SEBWAT measures 40 indicators of physical and behavioural well-being of working horses, donkeys and mules. Each assessment takes between five and 10 minutes and is carried out by two Brooke-trained assessors.

Training to become an assessor takes 10 days - a mixture of classroom-based theory, practical animal handling and assessment practice, followed by a theoretical and practical exam. As well ensuring that high quality, reliable data is collected in a welfare-friendly way, this training also equips assessors with an in-depth knowledge and understanding of working equine welfare and behaviour. Assessors have other roles too, and these skills enhance their work with animals and owners.

Around 600 million people worldwide depend on over 100 million working horses, donkeys and mules to live. Safeguarding the welfare of these hard-working animals isn't just essential for their quality of life, it’s also vital for the people who depend on them every day. Developing tools like SEBWAT and sharing what we learn helps ensure key welfare issues can be tackled and lasting improvements made.

SEBWAT in the field

Helping horses in Guatemala

In June 2015, SEBWAT was used by Equinos Sanos para el Pueblo (ESAP - Healthy Equines for the People) to collect welfare data in the eastern dry corridor of Guatemala. This region is arid, prone to drought and its inhabitants depend heavily on farming and agricultural labour for their livelihoods. 

As well as collecting useful information, the study also highlighted the challenges of working in remote areas where homes are widely dispersed and access is limited due to the hilly terrain and dirt roads.

Four hundred and two animals were assessed across 18 communities. The results showed the most severe welfare issues were:

  • body condition (41 percent were underweight)
  • hoof shape (41 percent were abnormal in all limbs)
  • gait (38 percent were highly compromised)
  • adverse response to spinal contact (33 percent responded).

Results from the SEBWAT assessments helped us to tailor interventions for each community's needs and also helped us decide to fund work by ESAP in this region. Being able to compare the level of need with working equines in other parts of the world helped us decide how to allocate our resources globally.

Informing our brick kiln research

Information collected using SEBWAT was published in Brick by Brick: Unveiling the full picture of South Asia’s brick kiln industry.

Published jointly by Brooke, The Donkey Sanctuary and the International Labour Organisation, this report made public the harsh working conditions in the brick kilns of south Asia and set out recommendations to tackle the harmful, and often illegal, practices that affect both the animals and the people who work there every day.

With your help, we can improve animal welfare in even more communities.