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The use of a mirror reduces isolation stress in horses being transported by trailer

By R. Kay, C. Hall

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Horse trailers are a common form of transportation for horses and ponies and often require the animal to travel alone or with a single companion. The current study investigated the effect of transporting horses alone, in company or with an acrylic safety mirror (measuring 81 cm x 61.5 cm) that provided surrogate companionship. The behavioural and physiological responses of 12 mature horses during a 30-min journey by trailer under the three treatments were compared. Behaviours (vocalisation, eating, head-tossing, pawing, and head-turning) were recorded. In order to assess circulatory changes that occur as part of the response to transport, heart rate (HR), rectal (Tr) and ear-pinna (Tp) temperatures were recorded. When travelling with a live companion significantly less time was spent vocalising (p<0.001), head-turning (p<0.001), head-tossing (p<0.01) and pawing (p<0.01); eating behaviour increased (p<0.05). Physiological responses (increases in HR and Tr and decreases in Tp) were also significantly reduced when travelling with a live companion (p<0.01). Travelling with the mirror did not significantly affect physiological responses compared with travelling alone, but the rise in Tr and fall in Tp was reduced (p=0.052 and p=0.051, respectively) and can be considered a trend. When travelling with a mirror significantly less time was spent turning the head (p<0.01), vocalising (p<0.05) and head-tossing (p<0.05); eating behaviour increased (p<0.05). The only significant difference between travelling with a live companion and a mirror was that the time spent turning the head round was less with a live companion (p<0.05). The provision of surrogate companionship in the form of a mirror was found to be preferable to travel alone, but where possible a live companion is recommended. Isolation during transportation was found to suppress feeding behaviour. Although peripheral blood flow (Tp) has been used to assess transport stress in other species it has not previously been used in the horse. Further evaluation of this non-invasive measure is now required.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 116
Issue 2/4
Pages 237-243
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.08.013
Language English
Author Address School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, Brackenhurst Campus, Southwell, Nottinghamshire NG25 0QF, UK.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal nutrition
  3. Animal physiology
  4. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  5. Blood
  6. Diets
  7. Eating habits
  8. Effect
  9. Evaluation
  10. Feeding
  11. Feeding behavior
  12. Head
  13. Heart
  14. Heart rate
  15. Hemodynamics
  16. Horses
  17. Mammals
  18. peer-reviewed
  19. rectum
  20. safety
  21. transportation
  1. peer-reviewed