Frequent Feeding Reduces Group-Housed Horses’ Aggression

More frequent forage feedings for group-housed horses could lead to a balance between feeding and resting.
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Frequent Feeding Reduces Group-Housed Horses
Van Dierendonck's study showed that increased forage feeding frequency for group-housed horses could lead to a healthy balance between feeding and resting, even for lower ranked horses, and had no negative side effects. | Photo: prof. dr. Machteld van Dierendonck

Picture a large covered paddock housing dozens of horses. A machine moves in periodically to deposit feed, and a robot maneuvers around horse hooves to suck up manure. No, this isn’t equine science fiction, it’s a scene from a group housing study conducted by Dutch researchers.

Scientists like prof. dr. Machteld van Dierendonck, owner of Equus Research and Therapy in The Netherlands and honorary professor of equine behavior and welfare at Ghent University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in Belgium, contend that group housing and feeding—if designed and introduced properly—is best for horses’ mental and physical health. But housing large groups of horses loose together comes with its own set of risks and challenges.

So van Dierendonck and colleagues set out to determine whether an automatic feeding system with multiple feeding frequencies would improve horses’ welfare in a well-integrated group of riding school ponies and horses. She presented their preliminary (not yet peer-reviewed) results at the 9th Annual International Society for Equitation Science, held July 18-20 at the University of Delaware, in Newark

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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