Happy and Unhappy Horses at Home

Has any research been done regarding what horses might like and dislike about their homes?

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If a horse appears unhappy or uncomfortable, quite often the most practical approach is just to move him back to where he was last comfortable or to a similar setting. | Photo: iStock

Q.A couple of “horsey” friends and I were trying to figure out why some of the facilities where we have boarded seem to really be upsetting to our horses. Has any research been done regarding the “likes and dislikes” of horses regarding their homes? I have owned my horse for almost 13 years (since he was two). In that time, we have lived/boarded in three different states and numerous boarding facilities. Some places were as small as 10 stalls, some as large as 60-plus.

Interestingly, there were a couple of smaller barns where my horse seemed very uncomfortable. These were quite nice facilities—spacious stalls, indoor arena. Yet my usually level-headed guy would “lose” it in these indoor arenas. He would become spookier than usual with things that would not ordinarily cause a big disruption. A friend’s horse (an aged gelding) got so nervous at one of the barns where we were stabled that he started to “stall walk.” He actually got some type of psoriasis (skin disease) and began rubbing so badly that hair came off. This was completely abnormal for this bomb-proof and mellow old guy.

I could go on, but we never did figure out what the problems were and eventually moved to another barn. Guess what? All of the unusual behavior ceased. No more spooking, stall walking, or psoriasis! Make any sense? Nothing changed as far as diet, etc

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Written by:

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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