Equine Science Update
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Does the type of work that horses are asked to perform make them more or less likely to adopt stereotypic behaviour? Recent studies in France suggest it might.

Stereotypies are abnormal repetitive behaviours with no apparent function. In the past they have been classed as stable vices. Examples include wind sucking, crib biting and head tossing.

Dr Martine Hausberger and colleagues at Université de Rennes 1 observed horses’ behaviour and related it to the type of work they performed.

Seventy-six French Saddlebred horses were housed individually and managed similarly apart from the work that they did. The horses were divided into six groups according to the type of work: eventing; show jumping; advanced riding school; dressage; high school and voltige (a mixture of acrobatics and gymnastics on horseback.) All horses worked for only one hour a day and spent the remaining 23 hours in their stable.

Of 76 horses included in the study, 65 showed at least one type of stereotypy.

The proportion of horses in each work group showing stereotypies was similar (between 81-100%). However, different types of work appeared to be associated with different stereotypies.

The researchers found that dressage and high school horses were most likely to show stereotypic behaviours. Some of them showed more than one type of stereotypy. They were also more likely to display the more serious types of abnormal behaviour such as cribbing, wind sucking and head tossing and nodding.

Licking and biting was more common in the eventing, jumping and riding school horses.

Voltige horses appeared least likely to show stereotypies. When they did do so they tended to show the milder types such as tongue play.

“This is to our knowledge the first evidence in animals that work may be a source of abnormal repetitive behaviour.”

The researchers suggest that the high frequency and types of stereotypy shown in dressage and high school horses may be explained by physical and interactional stress. Conflicting instructions from the rider are more frequent here. For example “the restricted gaits are often obtained by refraining movement through the reins and bit, while pushing forward the horses through the legs.”

The full report is available on PubMed.


Could Work Be a Source of Behavioural Disorders? A Study in Horses.
M Hausberger, E Gautier, V Biquand, C Lunel, P Jégo
PloS One October 2009 | Volume 4 | Issue 10 | e7625

Written by Mark Andrews. Published online 09.12.09.
© Copyright Equine Science Update  2009
Does work cause stereotypies?
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