Recent research confirms that horses react to stall confinement by increasing their activity once they are finally turned out.
Horses, by nature, are creatures of wide-open spaces. Stall confinement has been implicated in stereotypies such as weaving and box walking, and in medical conditions like gastric ulceration and impaction colic.
There may be medical reasons why individual horses should have restricted access to pasture. Complete rest may be needed to allow healing.. Alternatively, only a limited amount of pasture may be available and turnout may have to be rationed. But what effect does restricting the amount of turnout time have on the horse’s behaviour when he is finally turned out?
Dr Betty McGuire and colleagues working at the Department of Biological Sciences, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, examined the effect of restricted turnout on horses` behaviour.
They studied two established groups of horses. Those in the first group were only turned out for one period of two hours each week. This routine had been established for at least two years. Horses in the second group were turned out for two hours a day, six days a week. Both groups also received at least five hours ridden work a week.
The researchers recorded the horses` behaviour during ten-minute periods at the beginning and end of their turnout time.
They found that horses in the restricted turn-out group showed more bucking, trotting and cantering and less grazing activity, than did those in the 12-hour turn out group. This increased activity was seen even though the horses had been ridden regularly.
The researchers suggest that horses that have to be confined should be allowed enough time turned out to allow them to indulge in their normal activities, such as grazing. Although being used for riding may well increase the stimulation stalled horses receive, such exercise should not be seen as a sufficient replacement for turnout.
A note on the relationship between time spent in turnout and behaviour during turnout in horses (Equus caballus)
Layne Chaya, Elizabeth Cowan, Betty McGuire
Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2006) 98, 155 - 160.