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Equine Behavior Problems in Relation to Humane Care

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There are a variety of equine behavior problems presented to the Animal Behavior Clinic of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Of those that can be easily classified, 18% involve aggression, 8% involve stable vices, and 4% involve trailer problems.

The purpose of this study is to relate behavior problems to humane care of horses. Stable vices in particular can be predicted, prevented, and cured by a consideration of the behavior of horses in a natural environment. Horses on pasture or in the wild spend 60% of their time grazing. The typical modern equine diet of high concentrates and limited roughage does not take into consideration the horse's requirement for roughage. If this is considered, wood-chewing and coprophagia can be treated by increasing the roughage in the diet.

Another approach to prevention of stable vices and humane management of horses is to evaluate the animals' environmental preferences. When given a choice, horses spend only 10% to 720% of their time in stalls. They spend 50% to 60% of their time in visual contact with other horses. Some cases of aggression while stalled may be due to fear of a dark environment. In general, stall vices such as weaving, stall-kicking, stall-walking, pawing, and even cribbing can be successfully treated, not by punishment, but by pasturing the horse with other horses.

Equine aggression can be treated by methods that are not brutal, but instead make use of the social behavior of horses. Even trailer problems can be dealt with by considering the horse's preference for a lighted environment and solid footing. Foal rejection is truly abnormal behavior, apparently genetic in origin, but it resembles similar behavior by stallions toward alien foals.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/089279388787058434

Publication date: September 1, 1987

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