Study: Off-Schedule Feeding Compromises Horse Welfare

Do you scold your horses for door-kicking and pawing if you’re late to feed? Then you might not fully recognize the welfare implications of off-schedule feeding.
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Study: Off-Schedule Feeding Compromises Horse Welfare
Zupan and her fellow researchers confirmed that the horses experienced significant stress when their food was late, leading most of them to 'act out' through behaviors such as whinnying, pawing, and kicking the stall door. | Photo: iStock
If you’re late for feeding time, chances are you’ll get a not-so-subtle reminder from impatient horses. And with good reason! Slovene researchers say irregular feeding times create stress that can compromise equine welfare.

While this might come as no surprise to some horse people, many handlers still fuss or yell at horses for behaviors such as kicking their stall doors. This shows that not everyone understands how off-schedule feeding negatively affects horses, said Manja Zupan, PhD, of the Biotechnical Faculty in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Ljubljana, in Slovenia.

“Many horse people are annoyed or unsatisfied when they see their horse’s abnormal behavior, especially when performed around feeding time, and some even wonder what may trigger an animal to act that way,” Zupan said. “So in my belief people still do not know much about the general biological and ethological needs of animals in captivity.”

Zupan and her fellow researchers followed the behavioral stress indicators of eight horses in an experiment testing their reactions to regular and irregular morning feeding patterns (sometimes an hour too early, sometimes an hour too late). The horses received oats, barley, and hay (regular time 6 a.m.), then got turned out for the rest of the day. They confirmed that the horses experienced significant stress when their food was late, leading most of them to “act out” through behaviors such as whinnying, pawing, and kicking the stall door

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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