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Stereotypies in Pastured Horses: What, Why, What To DoBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 20, 2016

Even pastured horses get the blues. More specifically, pastured horses are prone to developing stereotypies such as cribbing and weaving, suggested researchers during a recent Australasian Equine Science Symposium (AESS).*

“Stereotypies are repetitive, purposeless behaviors that are widely considered an indicator of welfare issues,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research (KER) nutritionist.

How can turning out horses on pasture be considered a welfare issue? Researchers explained that even when horses have considerable access to pasture they are still largely dependent on humans for selection of feeds, time of feeding, and even pasture management. In fact, some horses turned out 24/7 still only have limited access to pasture which means, nutritionally speaking, their diets are similar to stabled horses.

To better identify factors contributing to stereotypies in pastured horses, the researchers surveyed 497 owners and collected data for 3,082 horses. They found:

  • About 45% of horses displayed unusual behaviors, including bark-chewing (26%), licking or eating dirt (18%), pawing the ground (7%), pacing the paddock or perimeter boundary (3%), and crib-biting (1%).
  • Despite most horses having extensive access to pasture, 95% of the diets were modified by the owner adding concentrates and/or supplements, and 86% of the horses were offered conserved forages (hay, cubes, or pellets).

With this in mind, pastured horses could benefit from management strategies known to help stabled horses with stereotypies, including the following:

  • Providing free-choice hay to stalled horses could prevent stereotypies from developing;
  • Using tongue-activated dispensers might be valuable if filled with a source of fiber instead of a liquid;
  • Offering a feeding puzzle in the shape of a ball that contains a food reward reduces stereotypic behavior; and
  • Using enrichment tools with a food rather than nonfood-related enrichment products.

“Stereotypies could make horses more susceptible to digestive and behavioral problems,” wrote the researchers.

“For horses that develop stereotypies because of digestive tract discomfort, help protect their digestive health by offering RiteTrac, a proprietary blend of ingredients designed to support total digestive tract health, especially during stressful times,” recommended Crandell. “EquiShure might be useful for horses with healthy stomachs, as it targets just the hindgut.” Australian horse owners should look for these research-proven products.

*Van den Berg, M., W.Y. Brown, C. Lee, and G.N. Hinch. 2014. Relative occurrence of stereotypic type behaviours in pastured horses in Australia. In: Proc. Australasian Equine Science Symposium, Vol. 5. Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. p. 47.