Most horses respect electric fences, but can they be a source of stress in their lives?
Swiss researchers have found no evidence of any stress response in horses as a result of being contained within electric fencing.
It did not matter whether the enclosed area was large or small, with the smaller of the two areas assessed being no bigger than a conventional stable.
Temporary electric fencing is increasingly used at some events to contain horses, providing them the opportunity to move and eat some grass.
Rupert Bruckmaier and his colleagues from the University of Bern said some concern existed that electric fencing systems could potentially affect horse behaviour, cause chronic stress and reduce the accessible space in a pasture.
They set out to measure stress responses in 20 horses kept in four different outdoor enclosures on pasture. They used two different-sized areas, with either wooden fencing or electric fencing.
The smaller of the two sizes was 12.25 square metres – the size of a modest stable – and the larger enclosure was nearly three times that size, at 36 square metres.
The researchers recorded the horses on video to later check for behavioural signs indicating stress, and determine whether there were any differences in pasture use between wooden fencing and electric fencing.
The horses, aged between 6 and 18, were put through the four enclosures, with each getting 90 minutes in each one.
Periodic measurements of the animals’ heart rate and heart-rate variability were taken, and samples of saliva were also taken for cortisol analysis – all of which paint a picture of the stress response in the animals.
“The total amount of stress-indicating behaviour did not differ between the two fence types,” they reported in the journal, Applied Animal Behaviour.
Salivary cortisol and heart-rate variability did not differ between the paddocks.
Horses used the available area significantly less in the electrically fenced enclosures, and also in the smaller of the wooden-fenced areas.
The border area – 50 centimetres – was used less both in electrically fenced and small paddocks.
Horses moved less in the small and electrically fenced paddocks than in big and wooden-fenced ones. Horses rolled less in small paddocks.
Some stress-indicating behaviour tended to be more prominent in the small fenced areas, the research team noted, but they continued: “Based on the measured physiological parameters, there is no indication for stress in electrically fenced paddocks.”
Annina Glauser, Dominik Burger, Hendrika Anette van Dorland, Lorenz Gygax, Iris Bachmann, Michelle Howald, Rupert M. Bruckmaie.
No increased stress response in horses on small and electrically fenced paddocks
The abstract can be read here.