Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Does work cause stereotypies?

Does the type of work that horses do make them more or less likely to adopt stereotypic behaviour? Recent studies in France suggest it could do.

Stereotypies are abnormal repetitive behaviours with no apparent function. They are sometimes referred to as stable vices. Examples include wind sucking, crib biting and head tossing.

Researchers at the Universit√© de Rennes 1, led by Dr Martine Hausberger, observed horses’ behaviour and related it to the type of work they performed.

Seventy-six French Saddlebred horses were divided into six groups according to their work: eventing; show jumping; advanced riding school; dressage; high school and voltige (a mixture of acrobatics and gymnastics on horseback.) All horses worked for only one hour a day and spent the remaining 23 hours in their stable.

The proportion of horses in each work group showing stereotypies was similar (between 81-100%). However, different types of work appeared to be associated with different stereotypies.

Dressage and high school horses were most likely to show stereotypic behaviours. Some of them showed more than one abnormal behaviour pattern. They were also more likely to display the more serious abnormalities such as cribbing, wind sucking and head tossing and nodding.

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