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Welfare of Free-Roaming Horses: 70 Years of Experience with Konik Polski Breeding in Poland

1
Department of Animal Behaviour, Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding, Polish Academy of Sciences, 05-552 Jastrzębiec, Poland
2
Department of Horse Breeding and Riding, Faculty of Animal Bioengineering, University of Warmia and Mazury, 10-719 Olsztyn, Poland
3
Department of Gamete and Embryo Biology, Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research, Polish Academy of Sciences, 10-243 Olsztyn, Poland
4
Department of Reproductive Immunology and Pathology, Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research, Polish Academy of Sciences, 10-243 Olsztyn, Poland
5
The Research Station of the IARF PAS in Popielno, 12-222 Ruciane-Nida, Poland;
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(6), 1094; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10061094
Received: 23 March 2020 / Revised: 16 June 2020 / Accepted: 21 June 2020 / Published: 24 June 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
Feral horses are free to choose their diet, social and reproductive partners, location, and the distance they travel. This behavior and life conditions are often presented as the model for stabled horses’ welfare. However, free-roaming horses are often exposed to conditions or states that may be regarded as welfare threats or abuse. Without human protection, the animals may suffer hunger, thirst, health problems, and aggression from other horses and predators. The aim of this review was to present cases of welfare compromise as well as natural ways to restore high standards of welfare to Konik polski horses (Koniks) living in semiferal conditions in a forest sanctuary over the course of 70 years.
To prevent abuse and to assure the welfare of domestic horses, attempts to assess welfare in a standardized way have been made. Welfare-assessment tools often refer to the physical and social environments of feral domestic horses as examples of welfare-friendly conditions for horses. However, free-roaming horses are often exposed to conditions or states that may be regarded as welfare threats or abuse. The aim of this review was to present cases of welfare compromises as well as natural ways to restore high standards of welfare to Konik polski horses (Koniks) living in semiferal conditions in a forest sanctuary over the course of 70 years. Welfare problems in Koniks related to feeding, locomotor, social, reproductive, and comfort behavior, as well as health issues concerning hoof trimming and parasitism in Koniks, are discussed. Periodic food scarcity or abundance, stressful events around weaning and gathering, the consequences of fights among stallions, exposure to sire aggression during dispersal, lameness during “self-trimming,” exposure to insect harassment, high levels of parasitism, and specific landscape formations may endanger free-roaming horses. It has to be underlined that despite the excellent adaptability of horses to free-roaming conditions, one should be aware that welfare problems are to be expected in any semiferal population. Here, we present the management system applied for 70 years in free-roaming Konik polski horses that minimizes welfare threats. It allows close follow-up of individual horses, the strict monitoring of health and welfare on a daily basis, and if necessary, instant reactions from caretakers in cases of emergency. Moreover, it addresses the problem of starvation due to overgrazing and thus, the ethical controversy related to the eradication of surplus animals causing environmental damage. View Full-Text
Keywords: feral horses; welfare; diet; reproduction; management; hoof; insects; parasites feral horses; welfare; diet; reproduction; management; hoof; insects; parasites
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MDPI and ACS Style

Górecka-Bruzda, A.; Jaworski, Z.; Jaworska, J.; Siemieniuch, M. Welfare of Free-Roaming Horses: 70 Years of Experience with Konik Polski Breeding in Poland. Animals 2020, 10, 1094. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10061094

AMA Style

Górecka-Bruzda A, Jaworski Z, Jaworska J, Siemieniuch M. Welfare of Free-Roaming Horses: 70 Years of Experience with Konik Polski Breeding in Poland. Animals. 2020; 10(6):1094. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10061094

Chicago/Turabian Style

Górecka-Bruzda, Aleksandra; Jaworski, Zbigniew; Jaworska, Joanna; Siemieniuch, Marta. 2020. "Welfare of Free-Roaming Horses: 70 Years of Experience with Konik Polski Breeding in Poland" Animals 10, no. 6: 1094. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10061094

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