Everything Horse magazine February 2014 - Page 30

Dr Hall. “ The legislation that aims to protect the welfare of animals (the Animal Welfare Act 2006) clearly states that the person responsible for an animal has the duty to meet the needs of that animal...The extent to which traditional stabling and management complies with this legislation is debatable.” Equine Housing: Understanding Stable Stress written by Louise Napthine MSc Traditional stables are a popular form of equine housing. Yet, many equine behaviourists think that stabling is not all it’s cut out to be. Traditional stabling and management systems, which segregate horses into individual pens, can lead to stress causing physical and psychological health problems. Studies of short and long term confinement and isolation have reported increased stress symptoms like raised heart rate, vocalisations, defecation and disturbances in feeding, as well as the development of abnormal behaviour. Stable management practices are often based around the human, structured by convenience and organisation, rather than being orientated around the behavioural needs of the horse. For horses, stabling can mean reduced stimulation and behavioural choices, as well as confinement and social isolation. Dr Carol Hall, from Nottingham Trent University says: “Many horses and ponies are kept for long periods on their own in stables where their movement is restricted and they generally eat while standing still. The health and behavioural problems that can occur as a result of this are 30 Btoodmare Group Support at Weaning clear indicators of less than optimum housing and management.” Traditional yard exercise and feeding regimes mean that restrictions are placed upon the horse, often dictating what it can do and when. Although many owners are increasing the amount of forage they feed their horses and introducing stable toys to help counter boredom, management routines intrinsically place limitations on horse behaviour. Researchers are concerned by the absence of behavioural choice in the stabled environment, because this in itself is a psychological challenge. Whilst any style of management largely dictates how a horse might choose to behave, a field or group-kept horse typically has a larger range of behaviours available to it at any one time and so can often find this environment less frustrating. The wider concern is that the restriction of behaviour can negatively impact equine welfare. “We need to consider the social needs of the horse throughout its entire life to ensure that we are not compromising their well-being” says Everything Horse UK Magazine • February 2014 • Issue 5 To explore alternatives to traditional stabling, Nottingham Trent University PhD student Kelly Yarnell investigated the effects of different housing designs. Supervised by Dr Carol Hall, she documented the stress levels, ease of handling and appearance of abnormal behaviour in horses under different housing conditions. During the study, horses were split into four different housing types: single housing with no physical contact; single housing with semi-contact; paired housing with full contact; and group housing with full contact. To evaluate the effects, the team observed the horses’ behaviour via video foot Y