Caring for our Standardbreds

“Every Standardbred horse should be treated with respect, compassion and understanding and shall receive a standard of care which allows them to enjoy a good quality of life while in the racing industry and on retirement.”

Harness Racing New Zealand is dedicated to communicating best practice care and husbandry to the industry. Attentive animal management is paramount for the welfare of the Standardbred horse and the minimisation of stress. Good horsemanship and professionalism is key to the longevity of our industry.

Upskilling of industry participants presents a more professional image to the World, and promotes New Zealand as a leader in the development of horses and personnel. Harness Racing New Zealand offers qualifications designed for the equine industry, and even more specifically for the Harness Racing Industry. This has a broad range of embedded equine husbandry and care units.

Industry Training Brochure

Harness Racing New Zealand embraces and communicates the Five Domains model for animal welfare which adheres to the current scientific knowledge of animal welfare, researched by David J. Mellor, Professor of animal welfare science and foundation director of the Massey University Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, New Zealand.

The Five Domains Model centres on the following five categories with practical provisions:

  1. Nutrition: Provide ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Environment: Provide an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Health: Prevent or rapidly diagnose and treat injury and disease.
  4. Behaviour: Provide sufficient space, proper facilities, and the company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Mental experiences: Ensure conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering.

Caring for your Standardbreds Five Domains v2
Mellor, D. Updating animal welfare thinking: Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “a Life Worth Living”. Animals 2016, 6.
Available online https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/6/3/21/htm.

The first three domains of the Model – nutrition, environment and health – focus on key elements of the internal functioning of the horse that are essential for its survival. Thus, these domains draw attention to basic management provisions that are necessary to meet horses’ innate needs for sufficient food, water, shelter, health and safety. The fourth domain – behaviour – focuses on the extent to which the horse can express ‘agency’; i.e., the opportunities it has to exhibit voluntary, self-generated behaviours to achieve goals it finds rewarding. Thus, key provisions for this domain aim to make available opportunities to have rewarding behaviours. For example, this might include seeking shade or mutual grooming. However, if there is no provision for shade or contact with another horse, the drive to seek them will be thwarted. We now know that behaviours such as windsucking, cribbing, weaving and pawing are not ‘naughty’ or learned by copying other horses; rather, they could be an indication of frustration, boredom, health issues or management deficiencies. The ‘provision’ of behavioural opportunities is the remedy for the deficiencies highlighted by this domain.

The fifth domain – the mental state of the Standardbred – focuses attention on negative and positive subjective experiences (affects) of two main types:

  • Firstly, those generated by the functional conditions within the body, captured by the nutrition, environment and health domains; and
  • Secondly, experiences that are associated with the horse’s perception of its external circumstances, captured by the behaviour domain.

Thus, the first four domains all focus attention on situations that contribute negative and positive experiences which are accumulated for consideration in the fifth mental domain. Our knowledge of the sources of different affects means that appropriate management of specific provisions can be used to forestall welfare problems before they arise or correct problems that do arise.

The manager of the horse needs to be aware of the signals that the horse provides regarding posture, demeanour, activity, vocalisation etc to indicate its mental state.

1. Nutrition

Standardbreds should have the opportunity to:

  • Drink enough water
  • Eat enough food
  • Eat a balanced diet including sufficient natural fibre/roughage and essential trace minerals
  • Eat a variety of foods aligned to innate preferences
  • Eat at a natural rate and timing
  • Eat correct quantities

2. Environment

Standardbreds should have the opportunity to:

  • Safe enclosures made from appropriate materials with opportunities for shade and shelter
  • A thermally comfortable environment
  • Suitable ground surfaces in stables, yards and paddocks, and training and racing venues
  • Space for free movement
  • Fresh air
  • Comfortable light intensity
  • Acceptable noise exposure
  • Familiar routines and consistent environment
  • Familiarisation with normal activity

3. Health

Standardbreds should have the opportunity to:

  • Chronic injuries or conditions, and acute or contagious disease are well managed
  • Acute injuries are well managed
  • Vaccinations are conducted in line with Equine Vaccination Guidelines for NZ
  • Elective surgeries are expertly conducted in line with regulations
  • Therapeutic substances are used appropriately
  • The body and coat condition and foot care are appropriate
  • Good fitness level, posture, demeanour and gait are apparent

4. Behaviour

Standardbreds should have the opportunity to:

  • Comfortable sensory inputs
  • Engaging activities
  • Training based on graduated training practices supported by positive reinforcement of the horse’s learning
  • Opportunities for spontaneous free movement
  • Opportunities to respond to varied and interesting environmental challenges
  • Opportunities for foraging and browsing
  • Opportunities to bond with other animals and with humans
  • Opportunities to play
  • Opportunities to use safe spaces, retreat, or defensive activity
  • Having sufficient sleep and rest.

5. Mental

Standardbreds should have the opportunity to:

  • Management provisions meet nutritional, environmental, health and behavioural requirements
  • Negative experiences are kept at tolerably low levels
  • Opportunities are available for positive experiences

Horses are herbivores that graze on high fibre pasture for a large percentage of the day. A horse’s diet will depend on your horses age, breed, lifestyle (e.g. if in work) and general condition. The majority of your horses’ diet should be pasture, grass and hay, with constant access to fresh water. Supplementary feed is required when pasture is poor quality, or for horses that are using extra energy (e.g. if in work) or needing to gain condition.

Horses are herd animals that need social interaction with other horses and communicate using body language and if stabled they need to be boxed next to or be able to see other horses. 

A horse’s environment must allow for the following:

  • Allow grazing on fresh pasture, hay or haylage to meet daily fibre requirements
  • Be spacious to allow the opportunity to canter or gallop or provide with alternative methods of exercise
  • Be secure and safe, housed in an area of sufficient size to be able to move around, lie down and stretch out
  • Have sufficient shelter with dry areas to stand or lie down on
  • Allow for social interaction with other horses

Horse’s need checked daily for any changes in their appearance or behaviour. Proper nutrition and maintaining a clean and safe environment with the opportunity to exercise is paramount for your horse’s health.

Changes in appearance or behaviour may indicate health issues which must be diagnosed quickly and any health issues treated.  Preventative health measurements such as regular worming and vaccinations are important practices to maintain horses’ health.

It’s important that we handle horses with care and respond to their emotions and wellbeing by treating them with kindness and praise, moving around them quietly and communicating to them calmly as opposed to yelling, shouting or hitting horses.


Harness Racing New Zealand will:

  1. Communicate new welfare thinking to stakeholders, in particular, using the ‘Five Domains’ model as a guiding framework.
  2. Ensure that the Rules and Regulations of Harness Racing reinforce compliance with welfare regulations, and apply appropriate sanctions to owners or trainers who are non-compliant.
  3. Include health and animal welfare in educational material delivered to the industry.