Sunday, 23 November 2014

• VOLUME 55 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine

We know from current research that stress is unhealthy for any of us, leading to an increase in everything from depression, anxiety disorders and heart attacks.

What effect does anxiety have on our horses and what can we use as a measure that our horses are stressed?

Researchers have suggested that we consider certain behaviours as signs that horses are stressed., which they called stereotypies - defined as, abnormal repetitive behaviours which serve no useful function. Behaviours such as - cribbing, windsucking, head shaking, which they consider serious stereotypies. More mild stereotypies are licking and biting at enviromental structures.

The findings, published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, indicated that horses, like people, faced stresses in their daily life.

The researchers - Martine Hausberger, Emmanuel Gautier, Véronique Biquand, Christophe Lunel, and Patrick Jego - set about studying 76 French Saddlebred horses stabled at the Ecole Nationale d'Equitation in Samur.

The horses, aged six to 15, were all geldings and housed in the same conditions, spending 23 hours a day in their stables. They received the same diet. The only difference was in the kind of discipline they performed each day for an hour.

The scientists monitored the horses in their stables for behaviours called stereotypies - these included repetitive mouth movement, head tossing or nodding, windsucking, cribbing and weaving. These were used as indicators that horses were exhibiting some form of stress.

They found that the type of work performed by the horses each day had a significant influence on the prevalence and types of undesirable traits shown.

"To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of potential effects of work stressors on the emergence of abnormal behaviours in an animal species.

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• © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine