By Dr Ellie Merritt
Horses are naturally social animals and spend 50-70% of their time grazing pastures, with the rest of their time spend drinking, resting and grooming. Where horses are required to be stabled, their environmental conditions are often very different to those in which they have evolved. The restricted access to pasture and normal environment in stabled horses has been linked to the development of stereotypical and abnormal behaviour.
Environmental enrichment is defined as “the modification of a captive environment to improve the biological function of animals” (Newberry 1995). Many studies have investigated the importance of environmental enrichment on horse health and welfare. The following mechanisms can be implemented to improve horse welfare when stabled.
Forage – it is well known that stabled horse should be provided with hay to replace foraging behaviour, but there is now evidence to suggest that providing many different types of hay improves horse welfare, and reduces abnormal and stereotypical behaviour.
Stable design – the use of a window or lower stable walls allow horses to express their normal behaviours of environmental monitoring and social interaction, while also providing visual enrichment.
Brushes – attached to the stable wall or a pole – these allow horses to exhibit their normal grooming behaviour, like they would scratch on a tree in the paddock