Student Research on Horse Behavior

Q: I am a third-year veterinary student at Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College. I am working on a paper for my Equine Health Management class, and I am focusing on equine behavioral stereotypies (cribbing, weaving, stall/box walking) and pasturing…
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Q: I am a third-year veterinary student at Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College. I am working on a paper for my Equine Health Management class, and I am focusing on equine behavioral stereotypies (cribbing, weaving, stall/box walking) and pasturing. Throughout my research I have found that increasing pasture turnout can help with the prevention/treatment of these conditions, but there are many other factors involved (dietary, breed predisposition, lack of socialization, etc).

One of the requirements of my paper is to seek advice on my topic from an expert in the field. I thought that with your experience at the University of Pennsylvania and the Havemeyer Equine Behavior Lab you might have some thoughts on how pasturing horses impacts stereotypical equine behavior. Do you think that pasturing horses for long periods of time helps prevent these conditions? Do you increase pasture turnout and herd socialization to help treat these behaviors? Or do you think that there is no correlation?

Julie, via e-mail (Ontario Veterinary College)


A:Great topic, and glad to hear you are interested in behavior. Yes, I think most behaviorists these days think that confining horses to stalls and feeding them highly concentrated feeds (rather than all-forage diets) on a human eating schedule, rather than on a natural grazing schedule (eating on and off in about 30-60 minute cycles, 24/7), increases the risk of developing stereotypies. This scenario also leads to other social stresses and lack of exercise

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Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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