Building a ‘toolkit’ for change: evaluation of horse owner behaviour and knowledge transfer in response to an educational campaign

Lightfoot, Katie Louise (2020) Building a ‘toolkit’ for change: evaluation of horse owner behaviour and knowledge transfer in response to an educational campaign. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Colic is the umbrella term used to describe clinical signs of pain in the horse. A common source of concern for horse owners, colic has been shown to be the most common reason for emergency veterinary attendance in the United Kingdom (UK). However, despite having primary responsibility for maintaining the health and welfare of their animals, research has shown that horse owner knowledge of colic is limited. In response to these findings the ‘REACT Now to Beat Colic’ campaign was launched in September 2016. Interventions of this type are widely used within human medicine to raise awareness of select issues and elicit a positive change in behaviour. Yet, despite the importance of behaviour change on improved health outcomes, the success or failure of an intervention is rarely investigated. This thesis aimed to evaluate horse owner behaviour and the transfer of knowledge in response to the ‘REACT’ campaign.

Using a mixed-methodology, a process evaluation of several key elements of the ‘REACT’ campaign was conducted. The first section of this thesis investigated current levels of campaign awareness and engagement. During the first 12 months, over 20,000 educational ‘REACT’ packs had been distributed, with thousands of owners engaging with online content. However, the findings of an online survey suggested that, one-year post launch, campaign awareness was relatively low, with The British Horse Society (BHS) membership facilitating the highest level of recognition. Owners reported varied levels of resource engagement, with very few participants feeling that the campaign had impacted upon their knowledge and approach to colic. This result was further supported by the fact that a large proportion of horse owners were still unsure of correct health value ranges, with levels of knowledge similar to that reported previously.

Consequently, the second section of this thesis aimed to investigate existing behaviours that could be potential barriers to campaign engagement. A combination of theoretical frameworks were used to identify horse owner attitudes and practices associated with planning for a potential colic emergency. The results indicated that horse owners generally fell into one of two categories: no intention to adopt or already implementing emergency recommendations. Beliefs surrounding the completion of emergency preparation, such as perceived personal relevance and benefit, were shown to be significantly linked to horse owners’ intention to adopt emergency advice. Lower levels of intention were found to be associated with alleged social pressure. Social influence was also a significant factor in the spread of inaccurate beliefs, with findings of an online survey highlighting the continuous presence of misconceptions about colic within the equestrian community. However, the findings of these studies also demonstrated that horse owners consider individual factors, such as the horse-human relationship, essential during emergency decision making.

Therefore, the final section of this thesis further explored ‘contextual’ factors associated with colic that may affect owner engagement with the ‘REACT’ campaign. A prospective study of horses diagnosed with colic found that the decision to pursue surgery or intensive medical treatment was frequently based on the severity of clinical signs. However, non-clinical factors, such as financial constraints, horse age and owner concerns regarding equine welfare, were also considered significant in the decision-making process. This concept was further investigated through a qualitative study of stakeholder experiences in which four over-arching themes were identified: ‘head’, ‘heart’, ‘practicalities’ and ‘impact’. Owners understood that they were responsible for their horse’s welfare (‘head’) however, the horse-human relationship (‘heart’) often led to conflict during decision-making. ‘Practicalities’, such as the availability of transport and adverse weather conditions, presented owners with additional, unforeseen challenges when considering referral. It was apparent that an owner’s interpretation of their horses wants / needs (‘heart’) had a major bearing on their decision to refer for colic, with the experience often leaving owners with feelings of guilt and a change in help seeking behaviour (‘impact’).

This research highlights the importance of regular campaign evaluation to ensure the desired outcome is being elicited within the target population. The results show that owners evaluated new information against their own prior experience or knowledge, with many reluctant to adopt new approaches or ideas because of persistent false beliefs or the fear of social criticism. Additionally, though prior preparation can help to facilitate rapid judgement, the strength of emotional attachment can often cause owners to become conflicted. Therefore, it is paramount that both campaigners and veterinary professionals acknowledge the implications of the human-animal bond on informed decision-making.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Freeman, Sarah
Burford, John
England, Gary
Bowen, Mark
Keywords: Colic, Horse owners, REACT Campaign, Owner behaviour, Decision making
Subjects: S Agriculture > SF Animal culture
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Veterinary Medicine and Science
Item ID: 61499
Depositing User: Lightfoot, Katie
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2020 04:40
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2020 04:40

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