The stabled (UK) or stalled (USA) horse is commonly fed a restricted-forage diet in contrast to the varied ad libitum high-fibre diet it evolved to consume. A low-forage diet has been linked to the performance of stereotypical behaviour and health problems including gastric ulceration and impaction colic (in cases where horses are bedded on straw). Provision of a diet closer to that which the horse is adapted to and which enables more natural feeding behaviour warrants investigation.
This trial aimed to establish whether the behavioural effects observed in short-term trials when stabled horses were provided with a multiple forage diet persist over longer periods. It also aimed to develop a practical methodology for maintaining stabled horses under forage-enriched conditions.
Nine horses (aged 5–20 years, various breeds), acting as their own controls, participated in an 18-day, cross-over, Latin Square designed trial, in which they received comparable weights of two dietary treatments: a Single Forage (SF, hay) diet and a Multiple Forage (MF) diet (three long-chop and three short-chop commercially available forages). Following a 2-day acclimatisation, horses were maintained on the forage treatments for 7 days. Horses were observed on alternate days, morning and afternoon, during the 25 min following forage presentation. Horses then crossed over onto their second treatment and, following a further 2 days’ acclimatisation, the same protocol was followed for a further 7 days. Observations from video were made using The Observer 3.0® and SPPS (version 11).
Horses on the MF treatment performed foraging behaviour significantly more frequently and for significantly longer periods than horses on the SF treatment. On the MF treatment horses sampled all forages during observations. However, there were significant differences in the frequency and duration of foraging on individual forages, indicating that horses demonstrated individual preferences for particular forages. Stereotypic weaving behaviour only occurred on the SF treatment.
The results indicate that the potentially beneficial behavioural effects of short-term multiple forage provision do persist when horses are managed on a MF diet for a 7-day period. They suggest that a MF diet provides a means of enriching the stabled horse's environment, by offering variety and enabling patch foraging behaviour. The methodology proved practical for maintaining horses under forage-enriched conditions and could easily be adopted by horse owners to facilitate foraging behaviour.
|Applied Animal Behaviour Science
|Department of Equine Studies, Writtle College, Chelmsford, Essex, CM1 3RR, UK.firstname.lastname@example.org
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