Special Issue "Horse Welfare"

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Animal Welfare".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2019) | Viewed by 38464

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Clémence Lesimple
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Univ Rennes, Normandie Univ, CNRS, EthoS (Éthologie animale et humaine) - UMR 6552, F-35380 Paimpont, France
Interests: animal behaviour; animal welfare; horse management; working conditions
Dr. Aleksandra Górecka-Bruzda
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute of Genetics and Animal Biotechnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Jastrzębiec, 05-556 Magdalenka, Poland
Interests: animal behavior; animal welfare; horse behavior and welfare; free-roaming Konik polski horses
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In the last decades, animal welfare has become a primary societal concern, extending from livestock to companion animals. Horses, due to their multiple status of companion, leisure, sport and livestock animals, have to face major modifications of their environment and life conditions from their youngest age. These constraints may include, but are not restricted to, social, spatial, nutritional and physical restrictions, as well as the omnipresence of humans, which can impact the welfare state. There is evidence that horses’ welfare and perception of humans are closely linked, as the first can impair the second and vice versa. Thus promoting welfare-friendly practices and positive human–horse interactions cannot be disentangled when considering horse welfare.

We invite original research or review papers that address the improvement of all the potential components of horse welfare, including breeding and weaning conditions, management, working conditions, welfare evaluation, and the management of geriatric horses. Additional topics may include horse education, transportation and the effect of training on the improvement and evaluation of horse welfare. As the definition of welfare depends on constant states, cases of acute pain or sickness states will not be treated in this Special Issue.

Dr. Clémence Lesimple
Dr. Aleksandra Górecka-Bruzda
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • horse welfare
  • management
  • human–horse relationship
  • welfare assessment
  • equine preferences and training
  • working conditions

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Research

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Article
Documenting the Welfare and Role of Working Equids in Rural Communities of Portugal and Spain
Animals 2020, 10(5), 790; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10050790 - 02 May 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1558
Abstract
Recently, the need for a more holistic approach to welfare assessment has been highlighted. This is particularly pertinent in the case of working equids who provide vital support for human livelihoods, often in low- to middle-income countries, yet suffer from globally low standards [...] Read more.
Recently, the need for a more holistic approach to welfare assessment has been highlighted. This is particularly pertinent in the case of working equids who provide vital support for human livelihoods, often in low- to middle-income countries, yet suffer from globally low standards of welfare. This study aimed to provide insight into the welfare status and traditional use of working equids in rural Western European communities using the new EARS welfare tool, designed to provide a broad view of the welfare of working equids and the context in which they are found. Other questions on the topics of equid management practices, social transmission of expertise, environmental stressors, and traditions, alongside physical and behavioural welfare assessments were also included to explore the impact of these wide-ranging factors on an understudied population of working equids. The protocol was trialled on 60 working equid owners from communities in Portugal and Spain where, despite the decline in traditional agricultural practices and livestock keeping, donkeys and mules remain working animals. Many owners stated that the help donkeys provided was invaluable, and donkeys were considered to be important for both farming and daily life. However, participants also recognised that the traditional agricultural way of life was dying out, providing insights into the traditional practices, community structure, and beliefs of equid owners. Questions investigating the social networks and social transfer of information within the villages were effective in finding local sources of equid knowledge. Overall, welfare was deemed fair, and the protocol enabled the identification of the most prevalent welfare problems within the communities studied, in this case obesity and the use of harmful practices. The findings suggest that the new protocol was feasible and detail how contextual factors may influence equid welfare. Increasing understanding of the cultural context, social structure, and attitudes within a community, alongside more traditional investigations of working practices and animal management, may, in the future, help to make equid welfare initiatives more effective. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
Article
Common Feeding Practices Pose A Risk to the Welfare of Horses When Kept on Non-Edible Bedding
Animals 2020, 10(3), 411; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10030411 - 02 Mar 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 4082
Abstract
During the evolution of the horse, an extended period of feed intake, spread over the entire 24-h period, determined the horses’ behaviour and physiology. Horses will not interrupt their feed intake for more than 4 h, if they have a choice. The aim [...] Read more.
During the evolution of the horse, an extended period of feed intake, spread over the entire 24-h period, determined the horses’ behaviour and physiology. Horses will not interrupt their feed intake for more than 4 h, if they have a choice. The aim of the present study was to investigate in what way restrictive feeding practices (non ad libitum) affect the horses’ natural feed intake behaviour. We observed the feed intake behaviour of 104 horses on edible (n = 30) and non-edible bedding (n = 74) on ten different farms. We assessed the duration of the forced nocturnal feed intake interruption of horses housed on shavings when no additional roughage was available. Furthermore, we comparatively examined the feed intake behaviour of horses housed on edible versus non-edible bedding. The daily restrictive feeding of roughage (2 times a day: n = 8; 3 times a day: n = 2), as it is common in individual housing systems, resulted in a nocturnal feed intake interruption of more than 4 hours for the majority (74.32%, 55/74) of the horses on shavings (8:50 ± 1:25 h, median: 8:45 h, minimum: 6:45 h, maximum: 13:23 h). In comparison to horses on straw, horses on shavings paused their feed intake less frequently and at a later latency. Furthermore, they spent less time on consuming the evening meal than horses on straw. Our results of the comparison of the feed-intake behaviour of horses on edible and non-edible bedding show that the horses’ ethological feeding needs are not satisfied on non-edible bedding. If the horses accelerate their feed intake (also defined as “rebound effect”), this might indicate that the horses‘ welfare is compromised. We conclude that in addition to the body condition score, the longest duration of feed intake interruption (usually in the night) is an important welfare indicator of horses that have limited access to roughage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
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Article
A Retrospective Survey of Factors Affecting the Risk of Incidents and Equine Injury During Non-Commercial Transportation by Road in the United Kingdom
Animals 2020, 10(2), 288; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10020288 - 12 Feb 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1103
Abstract
The number of equines injured as a result of incidents during road transport is currently unknown in the United Kingdom. Although previous research has identified factors that affect an equine’s behavioural and physiological responses to transportation, their contribution to incident occurrence and injury [...] Read more.
The number of equines injured as a result of incidents during road transport is currently unknown in the United Kingdom. Although previous research has identified factors that affect an equine’s behavioural and physiological responses to transportation, their contribution to incident occurrence and injury risk is unclear. The aim of this study was to identify factors associated with incident occurrence and equine injury during transportation by road. An online survey was administered between 12 May 2017 and 21 July 2017 in the UK. The survey was open to those transporting equines non-commercially and comprised two sections. Questions relating to general transport behaviour were completed by all participants. Participants who had experienced an incident then provided details of these, including outcomes. Incidents were reported by 16.2% (342/2116) of participants, with details included for 399 incidents. Those participants who had a professional/competitive involvement with equines reported more incidents than those with a predominantly leisure involvement (p < 0.01). Equine behaviour was the attributed cause of 56% of incidents reported and most incidents occurred during the first hour of travel (65%). In over 50% of the incidents reported, the equine was injured, with those incidents attributed to transport vehicle malfunction being associated with the highest percentage of injury (68%). This study highlights the need for better preparation of the equine for transportation and to identify risk factors associated with transport vehicle type, design and operation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
Article
In-Person Caretaker Visits Disrupt Ongoing Discomfort Behavior in Hospitalized Equine Orthopedic Surgical Patients
Animals 2020, 10(2), 210; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10020210 - 27 Jan 2020
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 3270
Abstract
Horses have evolved to show little indication of discomfort or disability when in the presence of potential predators, including humans. This natural characteristic complicates the recognition of pain in equine patients. It has been our clinical impression that, whenever a person is present, [...] Read more.
Horses have evolved to show little indication of discomfort or disability when in the presence of potential predators, including humans. This natural characteristic complicates the recognition of pain in equine patients. It has been our clinical impression that, whenever a person is present, horses tend to “perk up” and ongoing discomfort behavior (DB) more or less ceases. The objective of this study was to quantitatively evaluate and describe this effect. For each of 20 orthopedic surgical patients, continuous 24-h video was reviewed to record all occurrences of DB during a caretaker visit (3.23 to 7.75 min), for comparison to the hour preceding as well as the hour following when undisturbed. The mean ± S.E. DB observed per minute during the preceding and following hours, respectively, were 1.65 ± 0.17 and 1.49 ± 0.22. The difference was not significant (p > 0.05). In contrast, mean DB per minute during the visit was 0.40 ± 0.11. This was significantly lower than during both the preceding and following hours (p < 0.0001). All 20 patients expressed fewer observable DB per minute during the visit, with a mean reduction of 77.4% ± 0.17%. For 30% of these patients, ongoing DB ceased altogether during the visit. These findings confirm our clinical impression that caretaker visits interrupt DB, resulting in under-appreciation of discomfort. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
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Article
Effects of Transport Conditions on Behavioural and Physiological Responses of Horses
Animals 2020, 10(1), 160; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010160 - 17 Jan 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 3683
Abstract
The regulations for minimal space and direction of travel for land transport in horses vary worldwide and there is currently no definitive guidance to promote equine health and welfare. This study evaluated the effects of bay size and direction of travel (forwards/backwards) in [...] Read more.
The regulations for minimal space and direction of travel for land transport in horses vary worldwide and there is currently no definitive guidance to promote equine health and welfare. This study evaluated the effects of bay size and direction of travel (forwards/backwards) in horses by comparing the behavioural, physiological, laboratory and gastroscopy parameters between transported and confined horses. A total of twenty-six mares took part in the study; 12 horses were confined for 12 h, and all mares underwent 12 hours’ transportation, travelling in single (n = 18) or wide bays (n = 8), and forward (n = 10) or rear (n = 16) facing. Behaviour was recorded during confinement/transportation and analysed using a behaviour sampling ethogram. Clinical examination, blood samples and gastroscopy were conducted before and after confinement/transportation. The frequency of behaviours relating to stress and balance increased during transport, and horses transported in a rear-facing position and in a wider bay size showed fewer balance-related behaviours. Balance behaviours, particularly loss of balance, were positively associated with the severity of gastric ulceration after transportation and elevated muscle enzymes, while increased stress behaviours correlated with decreased gastrointestinal sounds. Heart rate and rectal temperature after transportation were positively associated with balance and stress behaviours, and with squamous gastric ulcer scores. Transportation was associated with expected increases in cortisol and muscle enzymes, but positioning and space allowance had minimal effects on these analytes. Findings suggest that transportation in a rear-facing position and in wider bays might reduce the impact of transport on horse health and welfare, and monitoring behaviour in transit and physiological measurements after transportation should be recommended. Behavioural and physiological parameters were more sensitive than haematological, biochemical or endocrine analytes to identify horses suffering from transport stress. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
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Article
Optimising the Efficacy of Equine Welfare Communications: Do Equine Stakeholders Differ in Their Information-Seeking Behaviour and Communication Preferences?
Animals 2020, 10(1), 21; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010021 - 20 Dec 2019
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1586
Abstract
Information on the management of animals within domestic environments is freely available to animal owners and caregivers either online, or in paper form by request. However, awareness is growing within the animal welfare sector that simply providing written guidelines or educational material is [...] Read more.
Information on the management of animals within domestic environments is freely available to animal owners and caregivers either online, or in paper form by request. However, awareness is growing within the animal welfare sector that simply providing written guidelines or educational material is not enough to affect a positive change in owners in relation to animal welfare. In the quest to improve equine welfare, understanding the way that owners and other stakeholders seek information and their communication preferences is key to effective dissemination of up to date equine welfare information and research findings. Three UK equine stakeholder groups—horse owners, livery yard owners, and equine veterinarians—were surveyed online to find out where they sought equine information. Their awareness of equine welfare Codes of Practice, how they respond when they are asked to give advice to horse owners and their communication preferences were included within the survey. All three stakeholder groups tended to seek information from people rather than from organisations, or digital and printed resources. Veterinarians were the most used information source across all three stakeholder groups This highlighted the importance of ensuring that equine veterinarians have access to up to date, evidence-based equine welfare information. While the majority of participants were aware of the equine welfare Code of Practice, fewer had actually read it, this was true particularly amongst horse owners. The primary reasons for this were the features of the Code as well as the issuing organisation. The stakeholders expressed a preference for information to be communicated in a neutral or positive way rather than focusing on negative aspects. Our findings suggest that industry professionals, particularly veterinarians, have an important role to play in knowledge transfer and the dissemination of research findings to horse owners. The efficacy of equine welfare communication could be improved if the information delivery preferences of equine stakeholders are were taken into consideration. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
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Communication
Practice of Noseband Use and Intentions towards Behavioural Change in Dutch Equestrians
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1131; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121131 - 12 Dec 2019
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1740
Abstract
Understanding equestrians’ noseband tightening practices and intentions is necessary to target welfare improvement strategies. Firstly, we measured tightness in dressage and show jumping horses in The Netherlands, shortly after implementation of the two-finger rule by the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation. Noseband tightness decreased [...] Read more.
Understanding equestrians’ noseband tightening practices and intentions is necessary to target welfare improvement strategies. Firstly, we measured tightness in dressage and show jumping horses in The Netherlands, shortly after implementation of the two-finger rule by the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation. Noseband tightness decreased with age, was less tight in dressage horses than in show jumpers, and was dependent on the interaction between competition level and discipline. Fifty-nine percent of the riders tightened nosebands to such an extent that they adhered to the new regulation. Secondly, we conducted an online survey to gain insight into whether riders were aware of noseband use and tightening behaviour. Of the 386 respondents, 54.5% agreed with the new regulations, and 62% believe that it improves horses’ welfare. Applying cluster analysis to statements regarding their own attitude, peer pressure, and behavioural control produced three clusters. Noticeably, a lower percentage of Cluster 1 respondents (38%) performing at higher levels was convinced that the new regulation improved welfare than Cluster 2 (77.9%) and 3 (89.0%) respondents. Designing strategies to ensure the successful implementation of the new regulation and to convince equestrians to comply would be most effective if targeted differentially, and should include a transparent and objective form of regulation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
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Review

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Review
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 - 24 Jun 2020
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 2557
Abstract
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. [...] Read more.
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. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
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Review
On-Farm Welfare Assessment of Horses: The Risks of Putting the Cart before the Horse
Animals 2020, 10(3), 371; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10030371 - 25 Feb 2020
Cited by 11 | Viewed by 2175
Abstract
Although the question of animal welfare has been an important source of concern in the scientific community for several decades, many aspects are still under debate. On-farm assessments have to be rapid, acceptable to farmers and safe for both the assessors and animals. [...] Read more.
Although the question of animal welfare has been an important source of concern in the scientific community for several decades, many aspects are still under debate. On-farm assessments have to be rapid, acceptable to farmers and safe for both the assessors and animals. They are thus very demanding, with multiple decisions to make, such as the choice of appropriate indicators, sampling methods and scoring. Research has moved from resource-based to animal-based criteria, which reflects the subjective welfare state of an animal rather than relying upon external indices. In the present review, we describe two major (i.e., the most frequently/recently tested or disseminated) protocols: one in low-/middle-income countries, and the other in high-income countries, for on-farm assessments of horses, using animal-based resources; we evaluate their strengths and limitations, and then we compare their results with those obtained by various other studies. We propose lines of improvement, particularly in view of public dissemination, and offer suggestions for further refinement or new protocols. We emphasize the high risks of putting the cart before the horse, i.e., proposing protocols that rely upon indicators and sampling methods that need to be refined, as this could lead to under-evaluation (or less likely over-evaluation) of current welfare problems. Because welfare is a subjective experience, the true representation of an individual’s actual welfare status has to be evaluated by using objective assessment tools (that are validated and have a scientific basis) used by well-trained observers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
Review
Domestic Foal Weaning: Need for Re-Thinking Breeding Practices?
Animals 2020, 10(2), 361; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10020361 - 23 Feb 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 5264
Abstract
Artificial weaning is a standard practice known to be one of the most stressful events in a domestic foal’s life. Research has mainly focused on ways to alleviate weaning stress. However, there is still a need for more detailed research on what should [...] Read more.
Artificial weaning is a standard practice known to be one of the most stressful events in a domestic foal’s life. Research has mainly focused on ways to alleviate weaning stress. However, there is still a need for more detailed research on what should constitute best practices with respect to animal welfare. The aim of this review is to address this issue by examining the natural weaning process. We first provide an overview of the scientific literature on the natural temporal dynamics of the dam-offspring bond in horses: it is to be noted that the natural process of weaning is little documented, individual variations have been poorly investigated and immediate effects of weaning on the mare–foal relationship remain unexplored. To partly address these gaps, we performed a study around the weaning period on 16 mare–foal pairs kept with minimal human interference. Most foals were weaned spontaneously when 9-10 months old, with individual variations mainly due to the conception rate of mares. Natural weaning induced no stress response in either partner and was performed without clear signs of rejection by the dams either just before or after. We lastly open up the discussion on the need for rethinking weaning practices under domestic conditions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
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Review
Indicators of Horse Welfare: State-of-the-Art
Animals 2020, 10(2), 294; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10020294 - 13 Feb 2020
Cited by 36 | Viewed by 6411
Abstract
Animal welfare is defined as a chronic state reflecting an individual’s subjective perception of its situation. Because it is possible to be in a good welfare state and nevertheless experience acute fear or pain, and conversely, short-term positive emotions can be experienced during [...] Read more.
Animal welfare is defined as a chronic state reflecting an individual’s subjective perception of its situation. Because it is possible to be in a good welfare state and nevertheless experience acute fear or pain, and conversely, short-term positive emotions can be experienced during impaired welfare states, welfare as a chronic state has to be clearly distinguished from temporary states related to emotions, pain or stress. The evaluation of non-verbal individuals’ welfare state, particularly in interspecific situations, is a real challenge that necessarily implies animal-based measures and requires multidisciplinary scientifically validated measures. In the last decade, studies investigating horses’ welfare flourished together with new measures that were not always scientifically tested before being used. At a time were legal decisions are made on animal welfare, it is crucial to rely on reliable welfare indicators in order to prevent false evaluation. The aim of this review is to identify the scientifically tested and reliable indicators of horses’ welfare (e.g., body lesions, apathy, aggressiveness, stereotypic behaviours) from signals of temporary states related to acute pain emotions or stress and from popular beliefs, in order to give the scientific community and the horse industry accurate evaluation tools. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
Review
Horse Welfare During Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) Production
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1053; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121053 - 01 Dec 2019
Cited by 16 | Viewed by 2272
Abstract
Collection of blood from pregnant mares for extraction of equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG) is a critical but relatively unknown and poorly regulated practice in the countries in which it occurs. Equine chorionic gonadotropin is a hormone that is widely used to enhance reproductive [...] Read more.
Collection of blood from pregnant mares for extraction of equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG) is a critical but relatively unknown and poorly regulated practice in the countries in which it occurs. Equine chorionic gonadotropin is a hormone that is widely used to enhance reproductive performance and management of dairy and beef cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs kept under intensive housing systems. eCG is extracted from the blood of brood mares between days 40–120 of gestation. Although alternatives have been sought, there is currently no efficacious replacement, natural or synthetic, for eCG. Recently, several animal welfare organizations have voiced concerns over the condition and treatment of pregnant mares kept for eCG production in some countries. Animal welfare issues may arise if mares are bled too frequently or if too much blood is collected at any time. In addition, these mares tend to be managed extensively on pastures with minimal veterinary oversight and they may be poorly desensitized and habituated to handling and other practices. This can lead to serious injuries and even death when mares are brought in for bleeding. This paper reviews the process of blood collection for eCG extraction and provides recommendations for ensuring mare welfare. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)

Other

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Project Report
Preliminary Proof of the Concept of Wild (Feral) Horses Following Light Aircraft into a Trap
Animals 2020, 10(1), 80; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010080 - 02 Jan 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2032
Abstract
Feral horses, wherever managed, typically require population control involving capture for permanent removal or repeatedly for fertility control treatments. The most common method for capturing feral horses is helicopter chasing into traps. With this fear-based strategy, it is difficult to safely capture entire [...] Read more.
Feral horses, wherever managed, typically require population control involving capture for permanent removal or repeatedly for fertility control treatments. The most common method for capturing feral horses is helicopter chasing into traps. With this fear-based strategy, it is difficult to safely capture entire groups. Recapture becomes increasingly difficult, with greater safety risks for pilots and ground staff. As preliminary proof of the concept of capturing free-roaming horses by leading into enclosures with light aircraft rather than driving with helicopters, a consumer-grade quadcopter drone was used to lead a herd of 123 semi-feral ponies into simulated traps. The technique was successful on the first attempt as well as for seven of nine additional attempts over a period of 4 weeks, repeatedly to the same as well as to different destinations. The pace of following was primarily a fast walk, with occasional slow trot. Family integrity was maintained. This work demonstrates preliminary proof of the concept of repeated capture of horses by leading with aircraft rather than chasing. If successfully demonstrated in more extensive rangeland conditions, this method may eventually provide a lower-stress, more repeatable option of capturing feral horses, with implications for improved animal and human safety and welfare. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Welfare)
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