Horse Logging: Research, Economics, Welfare, Innovation and Training.

Horse logging is experiencing a general revival in Britain with more horse loggers doing more work than 10 years ago. This is generally true throughout Europe although the numbers working horses in some parts of Europe and  the former eastern bloc are in decline due to increased mechanisation. We all hope that decline will be more managed and thoughtful than the headlong rush to mechanisation we experienced in Britain in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

To be really sure how the profession of horse logging is developing, particularly with the complexities of expansion and decline in different parts of Europe at the same time, information needs to be collected and research projects undertaken. The opening statement needs to be supported. Our own evidence is largely anecdotal and only partly based upon the limited information we have. One measure is to consider the numbers of professional insurance schemes taken out. This has increased over four fold in the UK in recent years.

To be clear about any trends, the British Horse Loggers Charitable Trust is gathering data to give a much more informed, accurate and detailed picture. The research has been started in Wales with the intention to widen it to cover England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Once this has been completed and then repeated in subsequent years we will start to be able to talk about the figures with more authority.

If this revival is to last we need to address four key points to make horse logging sustainable and future development viable. Those points are economics, welfare, innovation and training.

To be truly sustainable, horse logging must be an economically viable option for woodland and forest management. There will always be a specialist role for delicate, wet and public sites. This work will continue to be paid on a day rate as timber production may be of a lesser priority than the quality of the work. In mainstream forestry it will be increasingly important to earn a dignified living whilst showing an income for the owner. We have done a great deal of work on the cost equation, taking the lack of preparation and reparation, when compared to what needs to be done to accommodate large machinery, into account. We can show horse logging to be cost effective and competitive. This cost analysis needs to be translated into contracts and highlighted in the research. 

We work our horses in the public eye of an increasingly urban population, some of whom will oppose the working of draught animals. This is an increasing threat to our profession. To counteract this and to increase effectiveness and efficiency, we need to continue to develop, analyze and improve what we do and how we do it. We need to be able to demonstrate that we work our horses well and kindly. Any welfare improvements, whether they be in equipment, harness, nutrition, veterinary care or work systems, will lead to increased efficiency and productivity over a longer working life as well as greater public acceptability. The term 'welfare' has been taken over by the animal rights lobby as a synonym for poor treatment, mal treatment and even cruelty. The Working Horse Community needs to reclaim the term to refer to the high standards of positive and beneficial welfare we practice.

Innovation must not stop there. The continued development of improved harness and working equipment, both in design and materials, coupled with better working practice can only lead to improved welfare and greater productivity. There is evidence of this happening in all horse work communities and it is to be applauded and encouraged.

The final strand is to encourage and enhance the skills of the horse logger through training. More skill will support increased welfare, innovation and productivity.  In the UK we have a three year apprenticeship through the BHL Charitable Trust in addition to short courses and mentoring. We do not support a mandatory qualification but the move towards credible portfolios of learning undertaken will continue and should be encouraged.

With the various strands of research, economics, welfare, innovation and training given their proper  priorities we can be hopeful of a sustainable and vibrant horse logging culture into the future.

To see the FECTU Welfare Code for the Care and Use of Traction Animals and to download a pdf file of the FECTU 10th Anniversary 'Work Horse' brochure <<click here>> and then follow the links.

This paper concentrates on horse logging but the points made are directly transferable to any horse work in 21st Century Britain
















Living horse power is cheap and readily available. We can breed horses, without limit, without endangering the planet.We know a lot about them and how to use them. They can pull things for us, carry us, help support our society, feed it and enable it to function. They can do so far better than they did in the past if we take advantage of some of the technical advances made in agriculture and machinery design. They can be fed from our fields. They don't destroy the environment but enhance it. They create employment, not replace it. They are a source of companionship in the workplace, a source of pride and pleasure when seen to be working to perfection in harmony with man and his surrounding. Why on earth don't we use them?

Charlie Pinney. 2003.