Dr Deborah Goodwin feeding Belle, one of the horses that took
part in the research project
courses for horses: research shows the benefits of a varied
diet in stables
stabled horses with a range of forages could significantly
reduce abnormal behaviour patterns, according to animal behaviour
experts at the University of Southampton.
collaboration with the WALTHAM Equine Studies Group, based
in Leicestershire, the Southampton team has been investigating
the link between diet and behaviour in stabled horses. Their
findings, published the Equine Veterinary Journal, show that
when provided with a variety of forages to choose from, stabled
horses exhibited less 'abnormal' and potentially harmful behaviour.
research is of particular importance to trainers of racehorses,
eventers, dressage horses, and other competition horses, which necessarily
often have restricted access to pasture, and which have already
been identified as being at risk of developing behaviour problems.
leader, Dr Deborah Goodwin, lecturer in Applied Animal Behaviour
at University of Southampton New College, explains: 'Unlike horses
at pasture which have access to a variety of grasses and other plants,
many stabled horses have highly restricted diets, often with only
one or two foods available to them at a time. Previous studies have
linked this to changes in patterns of behaviour, including a tendency
for horses to eat their straw bed, a habit that can lead to colic,
which is a potentially fatal condition.
study involved four trials with the same 12 competition horses taking
part in each. We monitored their behaviour when provided with a
single food and compared this with the behaviour they displayed
when six types of food were available.'
researchers found that by supplying multiple 'forages' they could
significantly affect the behaviour of stabled horses, promoting
natural foraging behaviour patterns, reducing their consumption
of straw, and reducing the amount of non-foraging behaviour, including
behaviour problems such as 'weaving' and 'pawing'.
work is needed to understand the effects of supplying multiple forages
in the long term,' adds Dr Goodwin. 'However, as horses are commonly
fed restricted and monotonous diets, our results show that by providing
multiple forages, it may be possible not only to reduce the amount
of straw consumed by stabled horses, but to enrich their environment
and promote their welfare.
'It is understandable that horses, like humans, enjoy a varied diet
and get bored with the same foods all the time. Interestingly, our
study showed that when a choice of forages was provided, hay, perhaps
rather predictably, was the least preferred.'
paper 'Foraging enrichment for stabled horses: effects on behaviour
and selection' is published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, Equine
vet.J. (2002) 34 (7) 686-691.
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