The impact of housing design in domesticated horses
Horses are predominantly housed in individual stables with little to no social interaction. This type of housing has been reported to activate the stress response and is therefore a concern for equine welfare. Group housing provides horses with an environment where they are able to display natural behaviour and allows contact with con-specifics improving overall welfare. The aim for this study was to assess the impact of different housing designs on the physiological and behavioural parameters in domesticated horses.
A total of sixteen horses were divided into four different groups and were exposed to each of four housing treatments for a period of five days per treatment. The four housing treatments used were single housed no physical contact (SHNC), single housed semi-contact (SHSC), paired housed full contact (PHFC) and group housed full contact (GHFC). Measurements included faecal corticosterone metabolite analysis, thermal images of the eye and eye temperature, behavioural analysis and an ease of handling score.
SHNC horses showed higher concentrations of faecal corticosterone and were more difficult to handle when compared to other housing types. Horses that were group housed with full social contact were easier to handle, showed lower concentrations of corticosterone in their faeces and eye temperature was also lower when compared to the other treatments.
The authors concluded that the findings of this study imply that the social housing designs were less aversive than the single housing design and provided an improved standard of equine welfare.
> From: Yarnell et al., Physiol. Behav. 143 (2015) 51-57. All rights reserved to Elsevier Inc.. Click here for the online summary.