It is widely accepted that horses evolved to live their entire lives in family groups of around 6 individuals. Feral horses will travel many miles a day to satisfy the need for scattered resources. Stressful events are fleeting. If this is the equine ‘gold-standard’ of a natural lifestyle, even pasture-kept, group-housed, domestic horses are somewhat compromised. And it can be no surprise that the demands of stabling and training practices can put equine mental and physical health and performance at risk. For example, many stereotypies (vices) start because of early weaning and isolating the foal .
Management practices are second only to pain/discomfort as the largest cause of behaviour and performance issues. Yet, good management is also preventative for health, and many improvements can be implemented with very little cost and disruption. Even in stables, aim to satisfy what behaviourists call the ‘3Fs’: Friends, Forage and Freedom.
- Friends: the social needs of a herd animal cannot be underestimated. ‘Individual turnout’ for resting and retired horses is perhaps more of a welfare issue than stabling. Pasture-kept horses adapt more easily to training than stabled horses , and individual stabling results in more chronic illnesses. Yet, stables need not mean isolation:
- Forage: Horses are designed to eat whole plants, but preserving and feeding hay can result in dust . We need to ensure the stabled horse can trickle-feed in a head-lowered position and do what we can for respiratory health:
So while physical pain and discomfort is the primary reason for misbehaviour or poor performance, management can result in slow-burning health problems. There’s no substitute for group turnout with the right horses. But where needs-must, we should use the 3F’s: Friends; Forage and Freedom, to reap the rewards of high welfare.
 Waters, A. J., Nicol, C. J. and French, N. P. (2002) Factors influencing the development of stereotypic and redirected behaviours in young horses: findings of a four year prospective epidemiological study. Equine Veterinary Journal. 34(6): 572-579
 Rivera, E., Benjamin, S., Nielsen, B., Shelle, J., & Zanella, A. J. (2002). Behavioral and physiological responses of horses to initial training: the comparison between pastured versus stalled horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 78(2), 235-252
 Ivester, K. M., Couetil, L. L., Moore, G. E., Zimmerman, N. J., & Raskin, R. E. (2014). Environmental exposures and airway inflammation in young thoroughbred horses. Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 28(3), 918-924.
 Moore-Colyer, M. J., Taylor, J. L., & James, R. (2016). The Effect of Steaming and Soaking on the Respirable Particle, Bacteria, Mould, and Nutrient Content in Hay for Horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 39, 62-68.
 Ellis, A. D., Fell, M., Luck, K., Gill, L., Owen, H., Briars, H., ... & Harris, P. (2015). Effect of forage presentation on feed intake behaviour in stabled horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 165, 88-94.
 Pickup L. (2017) Efficacy of a novel slow feeding system on intake rate and behaviour in normal and hyper reactive stabled horses. [video of Powerpoint presentation by author] Retrieved from personal files.
 Hughes, S. J., Potter, G. D., Greene, L. W., Odom, T. W., & Murray‐Gerzik, M. (1995). Adaptation of Thoroughbred horses in training to a fat supplemented diet. Equine Veterinary Journal, 27(S18), 349-352.
 RWAF (no date) Room to live [online] Available from: https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-housing/why-hutch-not-enough/[Date accessed: 18/6/17]
 Cooper, J. J., McDonald, L., and Mills, D. S. (2000) The effect of increasing visual horizons on stereotypic weaving: implications for the social housing of stabled horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 69(1): 67-83
 McGreevy, P.D. and Nicol, C.J. (1998b) Prevention of crib-biting: a review. Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement 27, 35–38.
 Mills, D. S. (2005). Repetitive movement problems in the horse. The Domestic Horse, The Origins, Development and Management of Its Behaviour, 212-227.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
Dr. David Marlin discusses the impact working within a stable environment has on human respiratory health