Being overweight is not just a problem in human health; recent research suggests that fat horses and ponies are more likely to misbehave than their more slender companions.
A study, Misbehaviour in Pony Club Horses: Incidence and risk factors, published in the Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ) is the first of its kind to quantify the incidence of misbehaviour in a population of horses.
Conducted by Petra Buckley, Senior Lecturer in Equine Science at Charles Sturt University, New South Wales,the study involved 84 Pony Club horses from seven different Clubs in rural Australia. Over a period of a year owners kept daily records of horse management including nutrition, healthcare and exercise and recorded any misbehaviour.
Misbehaviour was classified as “dangerous” (such as bucking, rearing, biting or kicking) or “unwelcome” (including “pulling like a steam train”, playing up, resenting foot trimming, and being difficult to catch.)
The horses were checked by a vet every month to investigate any relationship between pain, such as lameness and back pain and misbehaviour.
Of the horses studied, 59% misbehaved at least once during the study year, either during handling or when ridden. Whilst the occurrence of misbehaviour during riding was low, at 3% of horses in each month, in more than half of these cases the misbehaviour was dangerous, and posed a serious injury risk to horse and rider.
Risk of misbehaviour was higher in horses that were fat or obese and in those that were ridden infrequently. Horses exercised more than three times each week were less likely to misbehave. The odds of misbehaviour during riding were more than twice as high when horses were fed daily supplements, such as roughage, concentrates and/or grain. Access to “good grass” was also associated with increased risk of misbehaviour, independent of any supplementary feed provided. Horses and ponies that were excessively fat were roughly three times more likely to misbehave.
This suggests a link between nutrition, exercise, body condition scores and misbehaviour, where higher body condition scores reflect dietary intake exceeding requirements, a problem that can be exacerbated by infrequent exercise.
The study includes recommendations to help prevent misbehaviour such as exercising at least three times a week and maintaining an optimal physique by more closely matching pasture and supplementary feeding to horses’ exercise levels and resulting energy requirements.
“Our results highlight the importance of considering horse body condition, nutrition and exercise in any investigation of horse misbehaviour” concludes Petra Buckley.
Read more at equinescienceupdate.com