Keeping stabled horses occupied at night

Keeping stabled horses occupied at night
11 Oct 2015

Naturally, horses are constant forages and in the wild would spend a large part of their time grazing. It has been observed in stabled horses that eating of bedding, is mostly like to occur at night after they have eaten their ration of hay. Potentially this is when stereotypic behaviour such as crib-biting and weaving could occur too. Providing ad lib hay may be a solution but could be problematic for some overweight horses.

Researchers in the UK conducted a study to see whether haynets with smaller holes and haynets hung in multiple spots, caused horses to move around more and take longer to eat their food when stabled at night.

There were two parts to the study. Firstly, as a control period, the horses were fed with a single, normal haynet with 2.5cm x 2.5 cm holes. Secondly followed the experimental period, where the researchers tested two variables at once: haynets that were more difficult to get hay out of and diving the hay up into haynets hung in multiple spots so that the horses would have to move around more. Each horse had three haynets were hung randomly about their stall, each one with a varying degree of difficulty to get hay out of. One haynet was a normal haynet as used in the first part of the study, a second haynet was a doubling up of two haynets one inside the other, which made the holes smaller and the hay harder to get out and the third haynet consisted of three haynets, one inside the other, making this the most difficult haynet for the horses to get hay out of. The observation period took place once the horses came in for the night, they were not in the stables during the day.

Interestingly, after a 5 day adaption period, the horses ate the hay from the multiple nets in the same amount of time as in the control period with the single hay net. While it took them longer to get the hay out of the doubled up and tripled up haynets, they compensated for this by getting the hay out of the single layered haynet really quickly.

Horses went for the easiest, single layered haynet first, and then finished off the double haynet and then the triple haynet, although they did intermittently check out the other haynets while finishing the one they were on. This foraging behaviour led to a 60% increase in locomotion in the experimental period.

The researchers conclude that doubled up haynets hung in various places around the stall could be a good way to occupy stabled horses and encourage locomotion. They do not recommend the triple layered haynet as they observed that horses could use quite a lot of force when pulling hay out of the triple layered haynet and they noted that this could potentially be detrimental to the wear of teeth and the neck joint.

Two crib-biting horses were included in the study. They did not show any less crib-biting behaviour during the experiment. However, the researchers observed that the two horses seemed to crib-bite for different reasons. One horse showed increased crib-biting behaviour around feed time (the horses in the study were fed grain twice a day in addition to their haynets as part of their regular routine) and the second horse showed increased crib-biting behaviour at night after he had eaten all his hay. This could be because crib-biting is caused by stress, and there may be different causes of stress for horses, depending on genetics and life experience.

How do you keep your horse occupied in his stable at night?

Reference

Ellis, A. D., Redgate, S., Zinchenko, S., Owen, H., Barfoot, C., & Harris, P. (2015). The effect of presenting forage in multi-layered haynets and at multiple sites on night time budgets of stabled horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 171, 108-116.

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