Long-term stabling is no life for a horse, says professor

Allowing horses to be horses in a group setting is important to their mental  and physical wellbeing, a Danish professor says.
Allowing horses to be horses in a group setting is important to their mental and physical wellbeing, a Danish professor says.

A Danish researcher has cautioned against excessive stabling of horses, which he says fails to meet many of their physical and mental needs.

Professor Jan Ladewig of Copenhagen University says the quality of a horse’s day outside of their riding routine matters a great deal.

While great emphasis is put on training and riding, the quality of “the other 23 hours a day” is of equal importance, Ladewig suggests.

“If we expect horses to perform at a high level, either during competitions, or during general leisure riding … and if we expect them to be safe and easy going to handle and to ride, we must consider the quality of all those hours of the day and night when they are left by themselves, when we are not around.”

Ladewig, addressing delegates at the recent annual conference of the International Society for Equitation Science in the United States, focused on current husbandry methods, the problems associated with them and suggested how changes could be made for the betterment of the horse’s welfare.

Current equine management practices may arise from incorrect information people have about horses, the equine social structure, and particularly the horse’s needs, he said.

Ladewig, citing a Swiss study that found 83.5 percent of horses from 12 different riding schools were housed individually, said some horse owners did not allow their horse to have group turnout, believing that injury was more likely in such a setting.

That belief went against the results of a study showing that horses in group turnout on pasture suffered no more injuries than horses housed individually in stalls.

Ladewig said domestication had not removed the basic social, physiological and psychological needs of the horse, and some management and living conditions failed to meet those needs.

“If we are really concerned about the welfare of riding horses we must get away from individual housing and change over to group housing.”

Some horse owners also thought that turnout was unnecessary, believing that horses got all the exercise they needed from being ridden.

A 30-year-old research paper found that the riding-school horses studied received on average 41 minutes of exercise, six days a week. This contrasted with the results of a 2010 study showing feral horses travelled an average of 17.9 kilometres a day.

Ladewig suggested that the difference in distances travelled by the horses in those two studies could explain why many modern horses suffered from health issues such as obesity.

Studies have shown that the domesticated horse did not differ substantially from the wild horse, such as Przewalski’s horse, either physically or psychologically.

“Horses need physical contact with other horses, and social isolation prohibits the horse from engaging in mutual grooming, play, and simply just being near other horses they are bonded with.

“Most domestic animals are social animals. That is almost a requirement for being domesticated.”

He discussed ways horse owners and managers could meet the species-specific needs of the horse in a modern world, including group housing alternatives, and pasture enrichments, such as dirt to roll in, trees and branches to forage on, and early socialization in mixed sex/age herds.

“I hope I’ve made it pretty clear that what we need is much more information on how horses are housed, how much they get out either alone, and with other horses, and how much they are ridden,” Ladewig said.

He implored those attending the conference to send research students out to acquire much-needed data in this area.

15 thoughts on “Long-term stabling is no life for a horse, says professor

  • August 14, 2013 at 2:14 am
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    Totally agree. Have big problems in the USA trying to get people to understand this. And of course if you need to keep the animal in for the show season – make sure they get some extra exercise and mental challenges – and a few months OFF. It really makes a difference. thanks for publishing… I will share with my colleagues and students.
    Dr. Rebecca Gimenez
    TLAER, INC.

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    • August 16, 2013 at 6:48 am
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      Well put Dr. Gimenez.
      Great article.

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    • August 21, 2013 at 4:52 pm
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      With all due respect, you’ve been speaking to the minority of horse owners in the USA. I think you would find that many horses in the US are, in fact, kept in pasture instead of stabled, not only for the benefit of the horse, but for the benefit of our pocket books. Perhaps show horses are, in part, the exception, but there are far more people in the USA who own horses for pleasure rather than show. People here, even people who show, understand a great deal about horse husbandry and have ample open space to be able to keep horses in large turnouts and pastures in a communal environment with other horses..

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      • October 3, 2013 at 5:04 am
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        Not true Janalina, In Los Angeles there are over 1 Million horses… all of which are kept in stalls. Land is over a million dollars an acre, why have a pasture for a few when you can stall 100 and Make way more money. And sadly this is where society is headed.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 2:36 am
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    I 100% agree with this article. Horses need to be Horses…! Great report….thanks so much!

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  • August 14, 2013 at 11:49 am
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    Great article – reads like common sense to me but we are lucky in New Zealand that the majority of horses are on 24/7 turnout. My horse lives in a 15 acre paddock with 5 others, they have plenty of hills and trees and they love life. Horses are animals, not commodities, and they shouldn’t have to stand around in stalls until you can be bothered giving them exercise.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 4:25 pm
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    I am so glad I live in Australia where it is normal to run horses in paddocks and in herds, lets hope it catches on in other places, thanks for the great article.

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  • August 14, 2013 at 6:37 pm
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    Even worse welfare issues here in the UK is the “management” of horses by tethering them.Usually on other people`s land without permission.They are left on the same piece of ground and rarely exercised,and are lucky to see two buckets of clean water a day! Now that`s what I call bad horse management.

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  • August 15, 2013 at 7:36 am
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    Thank goodness we live in New Zealand where most horses are allowed to run free in their own pasture day & night due mainly to the milder climate I think.
    We allow our horses to be in a herd environment the majority of the time. The best way to learn from horses is by watching and being with them in the pssture…that then leads to you understanding their needs rather than concentrating our needs.
    Our horses work in therapy sessions to assist humans to find solutions for all sorts of issues and problems and they do this willingly when we allow them the freedom to participate.

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  • August 15, 2013 at 8:35 am
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    Unfortunatly everywhere all over the world does this! Its a fact, but most people aee it as a way to molly coddle there horses, where as in fact they are doing more damage than good! I like to look at it in human form and this is how I explain it to others … .” Its like locking a human in the cupboard under the stairs! Its not fair and very uncomfortable expspecialy if being left in there for long periods of time! So why is it acceptable to do it to your equine friend?” Most dont have a come back but this has been a long battle ivebhad with many but hopefully this document might make them see sence

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  • August 16, 2013 at 1:47 am
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    I moved my 20 year old gelding from a barn that allowed only 2-3 hours maximum a day turnout (sometimes less!!!) to a new barn that allows 12-15 hours a day and have watched him blossom! He loves it and is so much calmer and visibly healthier so I love it too!!!!

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  • September 10, 2013 at 10:37 am
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    Dr Hiltrud Strasser has been saying exactly this for years.

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  • October 3, 2013 at 3:48 am
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    I live in scotland and although winter can be hard my horses are turned out 24/7 all year I do put rugs on in winter but I believe horses should be allowed to be horses and they are much happier for it

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  • January 6, 2014 at 10:05 am
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    i agree with this horses should be horses non of this we have to put them in a stall and turned out at what ever time then put back in that is just dumb i have a horse who is 21 and is out 24-7 with other horses and loves it

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  • February 7, 2014 at 5:48 am
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    …as always, it is a question of profit. most horse owners would prefer an enriched environment and turnout for their horses. most boarding stable owners want to maximize land use and profit.

    Reply

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