As social relationships between horses become a greater equine welfare focus, scientists are seeking ways to allow social interactions for animals housed in traditionally isolating box stall settings. But don't tear your barn and stalls down just yet: French researchers recently tested another solution—windows between stalls—with positive results.
“Horses stabled with a large open window between two stalls showed more positive social behavior and less aggression and boredom than when they were separated by full walls,” said Claire Neveux, MSc, researcher and equine behavior consultant at Ethonova, based in Monteille. Neveux presented her research at the 2014 French Equine Research Day held March 18 in Paris.
In her study Neveux and her fellow researchers observed 12 riding horses in their home stable for 10 days. For the two days prior to the study period, horses were allowed to see each other through a barred window installed in their normal 9 foot-by-9 foot box stalls. (There was only one window for every two stalls.) Additionally, each stall had a half-door that opened to a common area where they could see other horses, but not touch them.
For the first five days of the study, the researchers closed the barred windows to create a solid wall, as the horses had been stalled previously, but the horses could still look into the common area via their open half-doors. In the second half of the experiment the researchers opened the windows between the stalls and removed the bars, allowing the horses access to their neighbors. In each study phase researchers noted 180 behaviors per 24-hour period per horse.
The team observed that the horses showed significantly more positive social contact with the inter-stall windows open, including touching with ears pointed forward and social grooming. The animals showed less aggressive behavior (such as kicking the door, laying their ears back, and biting threats) when the windows were open than when they were closed, Neveux said. Additionally, when the windows were open the horses spent less time standing idle with their heads hanging out the half-door to the common area, indicating possibly less boredom or depression, she said.
The researchers reported that they observed no equine injuries during the study period.
“The results of this study have not only shown that it’s possible to allow horses to have social interactions even when housed in box stalls, but that this also leads to changes in the horses’ activity during the day—changes which seem rather positive because they’re associated with the presence of an equine companion,” Neveux said.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.