The relative merits and potential complementarity of participatory methods and classical epidemiological techniques in veterinary-related research is a current topic of discussion. Few reported studies have applied both methodologies within the same research framework to enable direct comparison. The aim of this study was to compare issues identified by a classical epidemiological study of horses and their owners with those identified by owner communities using participatory approaches. In 2009, a cross-sectional survey was undertaken as part of an impact assessment study of farrier and saddler training programmes, and a small-scale nutrition trial, implemented in Lesotho by a UK-based equine charity. In total, 245 horses and their 237 owners participated in the survey which comprised a face-to-face structured questionnaire covering knowledge and practices relating to equine husbandry and primary healthcare, clinical examination and sampling of horses, and examination of tack used on those horses. In early 2010, 56 owners in three survey regions, some of whom participated in the survey, attended a participatory workshop. Each workshop group created a local resource map whilst discussing and identifying key issues associated with horse ownership and what might have an adverse impact on horse health and work. Following map completion, each group began by prioritising the identified issues, and then ranked them using a pairwise/ranking matrix to reflect how important issues were in relation to each other. Overall priority issues were: mouth problems, hunger and nutrition, diseases (including infectious diseases, parasites and colic), husbandry (including wound management), and feet and limb problems. Major health issues identified by cross-sectional study included sharp enamel points on teeth, endo- and ectoparasite infestation, suboptimal nutrition, tack-associated wounds, overgrown and poorly balanced feet and poor owner husbandry knowledge and practices. Whilst common issues were identified through the two research approaches, key differences also emerged. The classical, more quantitative approach provided objective measurement of problem frequency, which was compared with owners' perceptions of importance. The qualitative participatory approach provided greater opportunity for researchers to gain detailed understanding of local issues and appreciate how owners defined and prioritised problems affecting them and their animals. Both approaches provided valuable and complementary information that can be used to inform interventions aimed at providing sustainable improvements in the health and wellbeing of working animals and their owners. It is recommended that both quantitative and qualitative approaches are employed as part of detailed needs assessment work prior to defining and prioritising the charity's future interventions.
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