Equine Science Update
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Is one type of exercise better than another for reducing unwanted behaviour in stabled horses?

Stabling reduces the opportunity for exercise.  Horses confined to stables may become difficult to manage. And they often show a burst of activity when eventually turned out -trotting, cantering and bucking - (known as the “rebound effect”).

A recent study conducted at the Equine Centre at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia assessed the influence of exercise on stabled horses’ behaviour.

Dr Raf Freire and his co-workers looked at how stabled horses behaved when they were given an hour’s exercise a day compared with no exercise. Four different exercise regimes were used : riding, horsewalker, treadmill or turnout. Altogether 24 horses took part in the study.

An important aspect of the study was that each horse acted as its own control in matched treatments. This allowed the researchers to separate the effects of exercise from other effects associated with the exercise treatments. On the days when they were not exercised, horses were taken out of their stables for an hour for a change of scenery, but no exercise as such. So, for example, horse walker exercise was compared with standing on a stationary horse walker.

After four days on the test or control regime, each horse’s behaviour was assessed. Manageability for routine tasks was assessed by walking the horse to weighing scales and loading it on a trailer. Rebound activity was determined by releasing the horse into a large sand arena. The number of steps taken at walk, trot and canter were recorded with a pedometer, along with the number of bouts of vocalisation, bucking and rolling.

Unwanted behaviour did not occur often, but for ease of recording was classified as either “dangerous” (bolting, rushing in or out of scales or float/trailer) or “unwelcome” (undesirable or frustrating without being dangerous.) There were three instances of dangerous behaviour. Illustrating that it does happen even with experienced handlers, and this was not enough to allow statistical analysis.

Exercise for one hour a day was sufficient to reduce the rebound effect shown by horses when turned out compared to horses that had not been exercised.

All types of exercise tested seemed to be effective at reducing the “rebound effect.” However, turnout seemed to be the most effective for reducing the number of steps taken at canter, and the number of bucks and rolls.

Exercise also reduced significantly the amount of problem behaviour during the routine tasks, and the amount of vocal commands that the handler had to give the horses during these tasks,.

The researchers conclude: “ Providing stabled horses with one hour /day of exercise on a walker, treadmill, turn-out or being ridden are all effective in providing for the general exercise needs of stabled horses, and is likely to provide positive effects on horse welfare, training ability and handler safety.”

For more details see:

Effects of different forms of exercise on post inhibitory rebound and unwanted behaviour in stabled horses.
R Freire, P Buckley, JJ Cooper
Equine Vet J (2009) 41, 487 - 492

Written by Mark Andrews. Published online 26.06.09.
 © Copyright Equine Science Update  2009
Effect of exercise on behaviour.
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