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Open AccessArticle

Housing Horses in Individual Boxes Is a Challenge with Regard to Welfare

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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
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INRA, UMR 1313 Génétique Animale et Biologie Intégrative, 78352 Jouy-en-Josas, AgroParisTech, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, Université Paris-Saclay, 91190 Saint-Aubin, France
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INRA, UMR 1286 NutriNeurO, 33076 Bordeaux, Université Bordeaux, 33076 Bordeaux, France
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(9), 621; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090621
Received: 31 July 2019 / Revised: 19 August 2019 / Accepted: 24 August 2019 / Published: 28 August 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Domestic Animal Behavior and Well-Being)
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.
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 identify housing and management factors that could alleviate the detrimental effects of individual boxes on welfare. A total of 187 horses were observed over 50 days by scan sampling. The impact of 12 factors was investigated on the expression of the four behavioural indicators in three different analyses. The results show that the majority of factors tested did not influence the expression of the behavioural indicators. Only three (straw bedding, a window opening onto the external environment, and a reduced quantity of concentrated feed) would have beneficial, although limited, effects. Furthermore, the longer the horses spent in individual boxes, the more likely they were to express unresponsiveness to the environment. 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. View Full-Text
Keywords: aggressive behaviour; animal welfare; horse welfare; housing system; individual boxes; stereotypies; stress; unresponsiveness aggressive behaviour; animal welfare; horse welfare; housing system; individual boxes; stereotypies; stress; unresponsiveness
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Ruet, A.; Lemarchand, J.; Parias, C.; Mach, N.; Moisan, M.-P.; Foury, A.; Briant, C.; Lansade, L. Housing Horses in Individual Boxes Is a Challenge with Regard to Welfare. Animals 2019, 9, 621.

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