Meet our student researchers: Laura Simons


Laura Simons is a third-year student in Veterinary Sciences at Bristol Veterinary School. Laura chose to focus her AWF-funded research project on veterinary professionals' confidence and capability to identify and treat stress in horses.

Q: Tell us a bit about you

I am entering my penultimate year of the graduate-entry Veterinary Sciences course at Bristol Vet School. I am the Farm and Equine Welfare Rep for the UOB Animal Welfare Society and was recently elected President of the Bristol Vegan Vets Society.

Q: How did you hear about the AWF student grant and what made you apply?

Course leaders often inform us of grants and scholarships available to vet students and the AWF grant jumped out at me because of my preexisting interest in animal welfare, as well as the freedom for creativity that the grant application offered. Some grant applications require you to have extensive research experience, but I liked that the AWF grant was inclusive of all students, regardless of their experience.

Q: Why did you choose this project to work on?

I am deeply troubled by poor horse welfare not only in the UK but globally. I have worked closely with horses for several years and know first-hand how sensitive these animals are – it is no wonder that they can provide life-changing animal-assisted therapy. They are herd animals kept in solitary stalls, and prey animals subjected to physical abuse and stressful environments. Although physical injury is a common indicator of poor welfare, I worried most about the effect on horses’ mental health. What is the impact of the fear and stress brought by the whip, as opposed to the pain of the whip against the flesh? And have owners and vets become complacent with chronic stress in horses?

Q: What did you hope to achieve?

I hoped to understand how vets and vet students consider stress in horses and whether they could – or would – attempt to treat stress as they would treat physical disease in horses. I wanted to produce data that could be used by other welfare experts and inspire vets and vet students to reflect on their approach to the mental health of their patients, and consider the impact they can have on welfare, both good and bad.

Q: What did you enjoy the most about your project?

Having the incredible Jo Hockenhull and Sue Horseman as my supervisors and presenting at the discussion forum in London! (You can watch Laura present by clicking here)

Q: What did you find challenging (if anything)?

Analysing qualitative data, and squeezing in the research project alongside my vet studies. The latter was particularly challenging for me as I have ADHD.

Q: What have you learned from your project and this experience?

That there is a lot of variation in approach to stress management of horses within the veterinary profession, and that personal values and experience outside of vet school has huge influence on the kind of vet you become. There is so much that we don’t yet understand about animal behaviour and stress.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to students wanting to get into research/apply for an AWF grant?

Choose a topic that makes you tick and your application will sing! I could ’ve chosen a topic and research method I was more comfortable with, but my efforts followed my interest. Remember that even a short-term project like this can yield important data, and the chance to gain knowledge useful for both research-based and clinical careers.