Lesimple, C., Reverchon-Billot, L., Galloux, P., Stomp, M., Boichot, L., Coste, C., et al. (2020). Free movement: A key for welfare improvement in sport horses? Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 225, 104972.
Abstract: Horses, and in particular sport horses, remain housed predominantly in single stalls. One of the main reported reasons is the fear that they will become agitated and injure themselves and thereby impair their performance if released in paddocks. The hour spent daily at work is also assumed to be sufficient to satisfy the horses' needs for locomotion. Growing scientific evidence shows that single stall housing has negative consequences on horses' welfare and that time for free movement is necessary. Our aim was to assess the feasibility of allowing sport horses used to staying permanently in their stall (except for 1 h riding/day) daily free time in a paddock and to evaluate its potential impact on their welfare using two behavioural reliable indicators (stereotypic behaviours and ear position), as well as selected blood parameters (blood cell count, oxytocin and serotonin concentrations). Two experiments were conducted on the same site. The first experiment evaluated sport horses' habituation to the novel situation of daily sessions in a paddock, and recorded welfare indicators in their stall before and during the experiment, comparing horses that were taken outdoors (experimental) and those that stayed in their stall (control). The second experiment evaluated the impact of this daily free time in a paddock on horses' welfare and its durability, focusing on positive indicators. Behavioural observations in paddocks showed that even horses that had never experienced free movement outside their stall habituated rapidly to this situation. The presence of hay in the paddock, may have speeded up habituation. Their restricted living conditions were associated with abnormalities in blood cell count that were not overcome during the time of daily paddock sessions but behavioural indicators showed that their welfare improved. In the second study, the experimental horses' welfare improved during the paddock release period, in particular their stereotypic behaviours decreased and oxytocin levels increased. No effects on serotonin concentrations could be evidenced. These effects were directly associated with being in paddock, as the indicators returned rapidly to their previous levels indicating compromised welfare when the paddock release sessions stopped. In conclusion, it can be recommended to release sport horses for free movement in paddocks as welfare is improved and subjective assessment by caretakers indicated minimal risks.
Nagy, K., Bodó, G., Bárdos, G., Harnos, A., & Kabai, P. (2009). The effect of a feeding stress-test on the behaviour and heart rate variability of control and crib-biting horses (with or without inhibition). Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 121(2), 140–147.
Abstract: Crib-biting is a form of oral stereotypy affecting 4-5% of horses. Once fixed, crib-biting is difficult to eliminate by behaviour therapy, however, its performance can be inhibited by collar or surgery treatment (modified Forssell's procedure). Although surgical intervention is widespread, the effects on stress coping in horses have not been studied. In the present study we evaluated changes in behaviour response and heart rate variability in 9 control, 10 crib-biting, 10 collar and 11 surgically treated horses in a feeding stress-test, in which a feeding-bowl was placed in front but out of the reach of the horses, from which tidbits were given 3 times. We found that stress triggers high oral activity, mainly cribbing in crib-biting horses, elevates other forms of oral activities in the inhibited groups and does not affect oral activities of controls. Instead of performing oral activities, control horses tended to target an unavailable feeding-bowl by pawing or head-tossing. Changes in stress level were indistinguishable in controls and crib-biters as heart rate variability returned to baseline values in both groups. In contrast, horses inhibited to perform crib-biting showed elevated stress level throughout the test period. Our results suggest that crib-biting may develop to cope with stress, and such coping function diminishes when inhibited.
Nagy, K., Bodó, G., Bárdos, G., Bánszky, N., & Kabai, P. (2010). Differences in temperament traits between crib-biting and control horses. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 122(1), 41–47.
Abstract: Recent studies have suggested that crib-biting in horses is associated with diminished capacity of learning or coping with stress. Such findings raise the question whether trainability, which is fundamentally important in practice, could also be affected by stereotypic behaviour. Trainability of a horse is difficult to assess in simple tests, however, it is reliably estimated by experienced riders. To assess trainability and other characteristics related to that, a questionnaire survey was conducted with the owners of 50 crib-biting and 50 control horses. Where possible, control horses were selected from the same establishment as crib-biters. Groups did not differ significantly regarding age, breed, gender, training level or usage. Principal component analysis revealed three main factors which can be labelled as [`]Anxiety', [`]Affability' and [`]Trainability'. The [`]Anxiety' factor consisted of the items [`]Nervousness', [`]Excitability', [`]Panic', [`]Inconsistent emotionality', [`]Vigilance', [`]Skittishness', and [`]Timidity'. [`]Affability' consisted of [`]Friendliness toward people', [`]Cooperation', [`]Docility' and [`]Friendliness toward horses'. [`]Trainability' involved [`]Concentration', [`]Trainability', [`]Memory', and [`]Perseverance'. Temperament traits were not affected by age, gender, breed or training level, but the usage of the horse and the presence of crib-biting behaviour had significant effects. Competition horses had lower level of [`]Anxiety' (p = 0.032) and higher level of [`]Trainability' (p = 0.068) than leisure horses. Crib-biting horses had significantly lower level of [`]Anxiety' than control horses (p < 0.001), while [`]Trainability' and [`]Affability' did not differ between groups (p = 0.823 and p = 0.543, respectively). Competition horses are more often exposed to novel environment and to frightening stimuli (e.g. colourful obstacles) than leisure horses and therefore might have also become more habituated to these types of stimuli. Coping with novel situation may be enhanced by defusing nervous behaviour by the more experienced riders of competition. Previous studies indicated crib-biting horses to be less reactive when challenged as compared to control horses. We suggest that the virtual calmness and lower nervousness of the crib-biting horses might be due to the passive coping style of these animals. [`]Affability' of horses might be more related to housing and management conditions than to crib-biting. Contrary to expectations, scores on [`]Trainability' had not coincided with the impaired learning of crib-biting horses reported in laboratory tests. However, previous behavioural tests on equine learning rarely had a direct relevance to the training abilities of the horses. Our results do not support crib-biting stereotypy to affect performance in training, which is a complex learning process involving cooperation and docility in the social environment.
Cooper, J. J., & Albentosa, M. J. (2005). Behavioural adaptation in the domestic horse: potential role of apparently abnormal responses including stereotypic behaviour. Adaptability of sport horses to stressful conditions, 92(2), 177–182.
Abstract: Classically, biologists have considered adaptation of behavioural characteristics in terms of long-term functional benefits to the individual, such as survival or reproductive fitness. In captive species, including the domestic horse, this level of explanation is limited, as for the most part, horses are housed in conditions that differ markedly from those in which they evolved. In addition, an individual horse's reproductive fitness is largely determined by man rather than its own behavioural strategies. Perhaps for reasons of this kind, explanations of behavioural adaptation to environmental challenges by domestic animals, including the capacity to learn new responses to these challenges, tend to concentrate on the proximate causes of behaviour. However, understanding the original function of these adaptive responses can help us explain why animals perform apparently novel or functionless activities in certain housing conditions and may help us to appreciate what the animal welfare implications might be. This paper reviews the behavioural adaptation of the domestic horse to captivity and discusses how apparently abnormal behaviour may not only provide a useful practical indicator of specific environmental deficiencies but may also serve the animal as an adaptive response to these deficiencies in an “abnormal” environment.
Nagy, K., Bodó, G., Bárdos, G., & Harnos, A. (2008). Is modified Forssell"s operation superior to cribbing collar in preventing crib-biting in horses? In IESM 2008.
Abstract: Crib-biting (wind-sucking) might be a coping response of the horses to the challenges of
uncontrolled environmental events. Prevention of this stereotypic behaviour evokes
physiological responses consistent with increased stress. Reducing the incidence of cribbiting,
however, is important in order to prevent undesirable physical and behavioural
consequences (tooth erosion, altered gut function, gastric inflammation/ulceration, colic, etc.).
Common treatment of crib-biting is the application of a cribbing collar, which limits the
flexion of the neck making this stereotypic movement uncomfortable and difficult. Another
method, the modified Forssell"s operation, is becoming more and more popular amongst the
horse owners. It is based on the removal of the muscles used in crib-biting (m.omohyoideus,
m.sternohyoideus, m.sternothyrohyoideus) and the ventral branches of the spinal accessory
nerves. Surveys on the success of this surgical procedure have revealed inconsistent results,
and, contrary to the cribbing collar, its effect on the stress level have not been studied either.
The aim of our study was to determine whether the modified Forssell"s procedure is superior
to the cribbing collar treatment.
Differences in stress management was tested by a crib-biting provoking test, in which
surgically treated horses, crib-biting horses, crib-biting horses with cribbing collar, and
normal horses (those showing no stereotypies), altogether 56 horses were compared. In this
test, a food bucket had been placed out of the reach of the animal, from which titbits were
given 3 times. Behaviour and heart rate variability (HRV) of the horses were recorded and
analysed throughout the test. Hypotheses were tested by linear mixed model.
According to our results, both prevention methods (collar or surgery) inhibited crib-biting
successfully though not totally. Regarding behaviour and heart rate variability, horses
prevented from crib-biting (by collar or surgery) differed significantly from crib-biting and
normal horses but not from each other.
Normal horses were usually trying to reach the food-bucket while present and were standing
still afterwards, whereas the other three groups had not really made efforts to reach the
bucket, spent less time with resting, and performed or tried crib-biting. During the stress-test,
normal and crib-biting horses had shown good stress-adaptation to the challenge since their
HRV, after an initial increase, returned to the basal value by the end. On the contrary, HRV of
the two prevented groups remained elevated and showed large oscillations throughout. They
had not found a successful coping behaviour either.
Our results suggest that since prevention may significantly increase distress, the treatment in
itself, without changing the motivation of the horse to perform the replacement behaviour – it
seems to be unsatisfactory and insufficient. After prevention the motivation of the horse to
perform crib-biting should be addressed. In addition, considering that prevention by collar and
surgery had not resulted in any significant behavioural or physiological differences, the
superiority of the modified Forssell"s procedure might be questioned. However, the surgery
might be recommended if treatment with collar is ineffective.