The purpose of this study is to create baseline data through a survey of Friesian owners to determine what ailments are most common within the breed and whether any of these ailments are more frequent within the Friesian horse population than the population of horses as a whole. An online survey was distributed to the members of the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA), asking about the health histories of their horses, and results compared to a baseline study in horse health by the USDA.The survey results showed that Friesians are more prone to scratches and retained placentas than the overall horse population, and have a higher death rate. Colic also showed a higher than average result, but was statistically incomparable with the USDA results. It is hoped that this study may serve as a basis for further studies on Friesian health, specifically the occurrence of colic in Friesians and the possible reasons behind their higher death rate.
In considering a method of collecting data on Friesian health, it became clear that the quickest and most efficient way to collect information from Friesian owners (a relatively small population spread across the country) was through an online medium. An online survey was designed through SurveyGizmo.com2 to collect first hand accounts about Friesian health from owners of registered Friesian horses across North America. The survey was directly distributed via email to approximately 2000 members of the Friesian Horse Association of North America. Accompanying the survey was information notifying participants of the nature of the study and the use to which their data would be put. All participants had the option of choosing the level of confidentiality of their information, ranging from complete anonymity, to complete disclosure of details in any final written report.
Information was collected on many variables in the horse’s care and condition so that in the future it will be possible to determine trends or connections between ailments and the horse’s lifestyle, besides the commonality of breed. General horse information such as age, height, weight and bloodlines were asked for, as well as details about management techniques (amount of hay, grain, water, shelter, exercise), and of course, the health history and past ailments of the horse.
A test version was sent out to the readers of a Friesian e-mail forum, who were asked to provide feedback on it’s usefulness and design. After appropriate changes had been made, distribution of the surveys began via systematic e-mail of the members of the Friesian Horse Association of North America, using their 2009 membership directory.
In the management section, the questions were well framed and information lent itself to easy collection by the survey program and was turned quickly into graph-able data. Unfortunately, management was only a secondary and relatively unimportant aspect for the purposes of this particular project. The most relevant information was the recorded health issues of each horse. Due the large scope of potential health problems, the health section of the survey was left in open-ended paragraph form, for owners to fill out the health histories of their horses. This later proved to make up the bulk of the work hours spent on the project. While there was a section for the owner to simply list their horse’s ailments, this section was underutilized, and proved largely ineffective. An owner may have left the list of ailments blank, believing their horse had not experienced any health problem significant enough to warrant listing, while in the paragraph-form health history section, they contradicted themselves, referring to numerous ailments their horse had experienced in their lifetime. Therefore, the ailment listings were largely disregarded, and the health histories used as a primary source of categorizing ailments. As a result, the 200 survey responses needed to be read and categorized by hand. This process allowed for an effective, if trial-by-fire learning experience in the methods and reasoning behind survey design and subsequent statistical analysis.
In regards to classifying horses as healthy or not-healthy, respondents often reported that their horses were “the picture of health” then would go on to describe minor ailments such as scratches or previous joint problems that their horse suffered from. Only entries which stated their horses were healthy (or a synonymous term/phrase) without any listed exceptions, were coded into the healthy category. Otherwise, the ailments mentioned would take precedence, since for the purposes of this study, the horse could not be both healthy and have a known ailment.
In regards to those recorded as having one or more ailments, no one ailment was prioritized over another. So for instance, if one horse suffered from both colic and scratches, both of these incidences were included in the end total of health problems. As a result, the number of incidences of health problems (287) is higher than the number of total survey responses (200).
I had originally planned to use an identical survey upon the general horse population to provide a comparison for my results. Unfortunately, effective distribution of the general horse survey proved to be problematic and it was necessary to find another source for data to compare to my results of Friesian health. A comparable study was found in a USDA report, “Equine 2005: Baseline reference of Equine Health and Management.” This study served as a control and provided the information necessary for an effective evaluation of my results in the Friesian horse.