Researchers Study Abnormal Behavior Prevalence in Racehorses

Researchers found that 11.03% of the racehorses evaluated performed some stereotypy or abnormal behavior.
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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

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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