Researchers Study Abnormal Behavior Prevalence in Racehorses
Many horse owners don't think about equine stereotypic behaviors until they own a cribber, a stall walker, a weaver, or a horse that passes his time with any abnormal behavior. But these stereotypies are more important than some might think: They could indicate compromised equine welfare. Recently, Chilean researchers set out to evaluate the prevalence and factors associated with stereotypies and other undesired behaviors in a population of racehorses.
Tamara Tadich, DrVetSci, of the Universidad Austral de Chile, in Valdivia, and colleagues recently camped out at two Chilean racetracks to evaluate the prevalence of stereotypies and other abnormal behaviors in stalled Thoroughbred racehorses. Tadich said that while the Chilean horse racing industry is growing, "there are no policies in relation to the housing and management of these horses, which is important taking into account that … racehorses in Chile spend their entire competitive lives housed at the racetrack yards."
Compiling data on the prevalence of abnormal behavior in these racehorses will likely provide important information regarding how their housing and management practices impact their welfare, she said.
Tadich and colleagues closely observed 743 Thoroughbred racehorses of varying ages and sexes at two racetracks in Santiago, Chile (417 horses at Racetrack A and 326 at Racetrack B). They recorded detailed information about the horses—including age, sex, bedding type, feeding protocol, training routine, and how much social contact they had with other horses (none, visual, or visual and tactile)—in addition to recording any stereotypic or abnormal behavior and any methods used to prevent or impede those behaviors.
The team classified weaving, stall walking, nodding, pawing, and stall kicking as undesirable behaviors with a locomotor origin; they considered cribbing or wind sucking, wood chewing, coprophagia (ingesting feces), bedding consumption, and eating or licking other objects as oral abnormal behaviors. They classified cribbing, wind sucking, weaving, and stall walking as stereotypies
Upon reviewing their results, the team found that:
"Our finding that 11.03% of the racehorses directly observed in this study presented at least one abnormal behavior is relevant for animal welfare and suggests that some changes to the management and husbandry would be beneficial," Tadich said.
"I would suggest increasing the percentage of forage in the meals of the horses and the frequency of feeding," she concluded. "Although due to the management of racehorses increasing the time spent out of the stall or in contact with other horses is difficult, it could help prevent these behaviors."
The study, "Prevalence and Factors Associated with Abnormal Behaviors in Chilean Racehorses: A Direct Observational Study," was published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.
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