The effects of diet and exercise on the behaviour of stabled horses

Davidson, Nell, Harris, Pat, Goodwin, Deborah, Cook, Sarah and Pagan, Joe (1998) The effects of diet and exercise on the behaviour of stabled horses. In, 32nd International Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE 97), Clermont-Ferrand, France, 21 - 25 Jul 1998. International Society for Applied Ethology.


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Although it is widely asserted by horse owners that diet affects the tractability of horses, there have been few controlled studies of this subject. We report here the results of a preliminary trial to investigate the effects of diet and exercise on the behaviour of four stabled horses. The horses were maintained on all combinations of two exercise regimens (light and strenuous) and two diets (forage and mixed forage and grain). Horses were kept on each of the four diet and exercise regimens for a period of four weeks in an order determined by a Latin Square. Observations were made on 3 consecutive days in the second and fourth weeks of each period, during a set handling routine, and on 3 consecutive days in the second week during a four hour period when housed in stalls.

During the handling trials the horses were observed when being [i] groomed with a rubber curry comb, [ii] a dandy brush, [iii] picking out the hooves [iv] sponging the face [v] sponging the dock [vi] applying fly spray and [vii] fitting a surcingle mounted heart monitor. In the second week of each diet/excercise treatment the horses were videotaped while housed in stalls between 12 noon and 4 pm. When in the stalls five minute scan sampling of the behaviour of each individual in turn was concentrated on three 30 minutes observation periods constituting the beginning, middle and end of the four hour period. Behaviour was recorded from videotapes using the Observer 3 and analysed using multifactor ANOVA in SPSS for Windows.

During the handling trials the main effect on the behaviour of the horses was associated with exercise. Horses which had been only lightly exercised exhibited significantly higher frequencies of a number of "unco-operative" behaviour patterns e.g. (Fig.1) Head Evasion (F=71.8 (1,3) P<0.01). During the periods of stall housing diet was found to have a significant effect on a number of behaviour patterns. Horses receiving the mixed diet exhibited higher frequencies of (Fig.2) Head Down (F=15.7 (1,3) P<0.05) and Rest Leg (F=10.8 (1,3) P<0.05) during the third period of scan sampling. Repeated investigation of the floor associated with Head Down and high frequencies of Rest Leg which indicated repeated transfer of weight from one back leg to the other, suggest a state of restlessness associated with confinement when maintained on a mixed diet. There was an interaction between diet and exercise for a number of redirected oral behaviour patterns e.g. (Fig.3) Lick Object (F=20.4 (1,3) P<0.05) with highest mean durations being recorded for horses receiving the mixed diet and light exercise. Only one horse exhibited Windsucking in the trial, and did so only when receiving the mixed diet. Frequency and duration of Windsucking (Fig. 4) were highest when receiving a mixed diet and light exercise.

Although this preliminary trial is restricted by a small sample size it has indicated that both diet and exercise can produce effects on the behaviour of the four horses studied. The link between diet and behaviour in horses suggested by the trial warrants further investigation.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Related URLs:
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
Q Science > QH Natural history
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Psychology > Division of Cognition
ePrint ID: 63544
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
August 1998Published
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2008
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:48

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