A qualitative interview study to explore factors influencing horse owners and managers practices relating to equine internal parasite management.

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation at Conference


Introduction: Anthelmintic resistance is a global issue in equine helminth control. It has been exacerbated by traditional worming approaches and there is evidence of resistance to all current drugs used for worming horses. With no new anthelmintic drugs being developed for horses, resistance of parasites is a growing threat to welfare and the sustainability of grazing and keeping horses (Nielsen, 2022). Modern practices such as utilising diagnostic testing prior to the application of worming offer a key role in controlling the current level of anthelmintic resistance, however anecdotal evidence suggests that blanket worming practices still occur within industry settings. This study aims to investigate the barriers and facilitators influencing decision making of equine owners worming practices, to better understand the challenges of human behaviour change in this area (Michie et al., 2011).

Material & Methods: Ten semi-structured interviews were conducted either online via MS Teams or by phone call with horse owners/managers using their horses for purposes of leisure, competition, and business. The interview style was adapted from Furtado et al., (2021), and participants recruited using convenience sampling via Facebook. Participants were unknown to the interviewer to limit social desirability bias. Participants were questioned on their equine involvement and experience, management practices, and prompted to bring up the subject of worming themselves through questions surrounding pasture and parasite burden management. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Key themes influencing parasite management were; lack of communication regarding parasite control between owners and veterinary professionals (with confusion of scientific terms e.g. anthelmintic resistance), personal agency (level of choice of behaviour), traditional worming practices, attitude (priorities), and confidence in diagnostics.

Discussion & Conclusion: The themes identified exposed a need for increased contact between owners and veterinary professionals into optimal parasite management and diagnostic testing. It was highlighted that scientific language was hard to comprehend, and the diagnostic process can be overcomplicated. Participants identified the logistics of undertaking FEC’s as a barrier to best practice - largely accounted to delivery of the samples, and many stated that it would be easier if collection of samples coincided with something else, e.g. regular veterinary visits. Having reminders sent about conducting the diagnostic tests or a designated testing day to suit larger yards was mentioned as being desirable to increase ease of use. Awareness of the function of FECRT’s was low, however participants were interested in undertaking these, provided the process was simple, to ascertain whether worming had been successful. The use of FECRT’s should therefore be emphasised during conversations between professionals and owners. In such communications, scientific language should be made more understandable by using lay terms, highlighting the importance of diagnostic testing. Support should be given to livery yard owners to help manage parasite burdens on their yards, especially with large quantities of horses. This support would influence behaviour change through the COM-B behaviour model factors (Michie et al., 2011). Further research should increase sample size to allow quantitative data on participants demographics to be related to behaviour.

Acknowledgements: None

Furtado, T., Perkins, E., Pinchbeck, G., McGowan, C., Watkins, F. and Christley, R., 2021. Exploring horse owners' understanding of obese body condition and weight management in UK leisure horses. Equine Veterinary Journal, 53(4), pp.752-762.
Michie, S., Van Stralen, M.M. and West, R., 2011. The behaviour change wheel: a new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation science, 6(1), pp.1-12.
Nielsen, M.K., 2022. Anthelmintic resistance in equine nematodes: Current status and emerging trends. International Journal for Parasitology: Drugs and Drug Resistance, 20, pp.76-88.
Period10 May 2023
Event titleAlltech Hartpury Student Conference 2023
Event typeConference