Housing Horses in Individual Boxes Is a Challenge with Regard to Welfare
INRA, UMR 85 Physiologie de la Reproduction et des Comportements, 37380 Nouzilly, CNRS, UMR 7247, 37380 Nouzilly, Université François Rabelais, 37041 Tours, IFCE, 49411 Saumur, France
INRA, UMR 1313 Génétique Animale et Biologie Intégrative, 78352 Jouy-en-Josas, AgroParisTech, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, Université Paris-Saclay, 91190 Saint-Aubin, France
INRA, UMR 1286 NutriNeurO, 33076 Bordeaux, Université Bordeaux, 33076 Bordeaux, France
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 31 July 2019 / Revised: 19 August 2019 / Accepted: 24 August 2019 / Published: 28 August 2019
Horses are mainly housed in individual boxes. This housing system is reported to be highly detrimental with regard to welfare and could trigger the expression of four behavioural indicators of a compromised welfare state: stereotypies, aggressiveness toward humans, unresponsiveness to the environment, and stress-related behaviours. The aim of this study was to investigate whether several factors commonly observed in boxes (e.g., the presence of a window toward the external environment) and management practices (e.g., time spent being ridden) could alleviate the negative effects of individual boxes on welfare. The results show that the majority of the factors studied did not influence the expression of the indicators. In addition, the longer the horses spent in individual boxes, the more likely they were to express unresponsiveness to the environment. Overall, the main conclusion of this study is that the detrimental effects caused by the spatial, social, and dietary deprivations of this housing system could not be alleviated by small facilities in the box or changes in management practices. To preserve the welfare of horses, it seems necessary to allow free exercise, interactions with conspecifics, and fibre consumption as often as possible, to ensure the satisfaction of the species’ behavioural and physiological needs.