Riding school horses can face multiple health and welfare challenges simply because of their situation—working under various riders with varying skill levels and frequently stalled. Recently, Danish researchers undertook an innovative study to investigate how horses at 100 riding schools in that country were managed and how this affected their health.

The biggest culprits for health issues in these riding school horses? Lack of pasture time and a horse's advancing age, the researchers said. But also—and perhaps more surprisingly—the advancing age of the school manager and the limited experience and education of the instructors.

“The older the manager is, the more (issues) we saw in the horses,” said Jens Frederik Agger, PhD, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark. “It may not be what we want to hear, but that is what our data analysis shows so far.” Agger presented the research at the 2014 International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Bredsten, Denmark.

As for the instructors, continuing education and experience appear to be key in keeping the riding school horses healthy for work. “The more experienced the teacher is, the fewer days the horses have to take off,” Agger said. “If the teachers stay active in competitions themselves and if they attend training and education sessions, this reduces also the number of days off.”

Still, the greatest influence of all on riding school health was turnout time, in a linear relationship with health, he said: The more time horses spent outdoors, the fewer days they were out of work due t