Watching British racing recently reminded me of the relationship of humans with animals and the place we share. A horse slipped up on the final bend – grass too lush; the turn too tight; a recent rain shower? This lead to an intense discussion about the suitability of conditions for both human and horse.

The conversation mimics those we have about safety and starting-stalls, about jump-racing on firm ground. Strong is the bond between humans and animals, notably so with horses. Jockeys are (rightly) concerned about their health and safety on the day.

Everyone involved on raceday are concerned not to place horses racing unnecessarily in harm’s way, or horseracing itself at reputational risk. The abandonment of further races round that bend on that day reminds us how reliant we are on the environment in which we operate.

One health is the concept that animal, human and environmental health are interconnected and dependent. Like a three-legged milking stool the system collapses if one leg cracks.

We human-animals share our habitat with all other animals – from horses to horse-flies alike! We have similar basic needs to other sentient animals:

  • a quality diet to eat and air to breath
  • space to stretch and exercise
  • a secure and comfortable place to rest
  • positive social experiences
  • Increasingly we understand that the health of both the environment and the animals about us determines our own well-being.

    We don’t own the environment, we are subject to it; guardians of the life within. We have proved capable of harming it; can we help it and thus all in it? Tired of being stuck in traffic breathing in commuter fumes, anyone?

    Infectious agents

    A classic way to illustrate One Health is to think of disease caused by infectious agents. The environment acts as a reservoir of ‘bugs’ (microbes) which move between sectors.

    Mostly harmless often helpful, but also disease-causing organisms. Liver fluke, for example, lay low in water-snails waiting for the next grazing host to pass by; mostly ruminants but a horse, even a human (eating watercress) will do!

    Similarly, salmonella bacteria are pretty widespread where there are horses and horse faeces. We lean on fence posts, muck out stables, even pick up horse dung, generally without a thought; and mostly come to no harm.

    However, disease-causing viruses, bacteria and parasites evolve (as we do) and adapt: some strains acquire the ability to infect humans, sometimes with devastating consequences.

    We share many disease-causing organisms, zoonotic threats abound. Most of the emerging diseases in humans are first recognised in animals.

    Same medicines

    And vets use essentially the same medicines to treat disease in animals as medics use in humans, antibiotics for instance. Some thus think the answer to safeguarding human health is almost to eliminate animals.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. The sectors are interconnected and must be managed in tandem, or should I say triad. The issues of concern are cross-cutting and horse-owners are not immune.

    We live in close proximity with our horses, sharing microscopic life and, don’t forget, many are later consumed abroad.

    Health and welfare are shared entities across three broad sectors: we must strengthen each leg of the stool to preserve the whole system.

    High animal and environmental health standards are interlinked with better human health; each is worthy in its own right, but together they make up our one and only earth.

    By caring for our animals’ needs and protecting those special habitats we share we also enhance our own well-being and that is a goal well worth achieving in these most challenging times.