Significant potential threats to the health and welfare of horses exist in Ireland when supply exceeds demand and the identification system for horses is not yet robust. To secure engagement with stakeholder groups and determine their perception of equine welfare in Ireland and encourage the development of inclusive, rather than imposed, policy solutions. A 3 round, web-based Policy Delphi incorporating novel vignette methodology was conducted from November 2007-March 2008 to canvass opinion (in both quantitative and qualitative forms) on the perceived most significant equine welfare issues. Vignettes (narratives depicting potential compromise to equine welfare) were employed. Quantitative data were collected in the form of scoring on a 9 point Likert scale with labelled end-points, qualitative information as text subsequently analysed for themes. All 44 respondents completed all rounds. Major equine welfare issues were identified as welfare of horses during the disposal process and at unregulated gatherings. Assessed quantitatively on a 9 point Likert scale (0 = minimal; 8 = maximal), respondents scored the desirability and feasibility of improving standards, median 8 and 6, respectively, for both issues identified. Basic themes identified in respondents' quotes as reasons to raise equine welfare standards were ideological, protection of animal welfare, safe-guarding the reputation of the equine industry and safety (of people, horses and environment). Themes for reasons for low standards were societal norms, fiscal pressures, indolence, indifference and ignorance. Themes underpinning potential means for achieving meaningful change (solutions) were legislation, enforcement, education/training, fiscal remedies, increasing awareness and a combination of these. Mechanisms aimed at raising standards must be based on an understanding of motivational drivers for currently low standards. The challenge is to translate the findings and this heightened awareness into meaningful change to the benefit of horses and those who care for them.
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