Forages for Stabled Horses

Busy training schedules and fears about injury often limit pasture access for performance horses. Prolonged stall confinement, however, can be detrimental to a horse's attitude. Boredom can lead to destructive behaviors, including weaving, pawing, and ingestion of bedding. Recently, researchers from Southampton and Leicestershire in the United Kingdom, collaborated on a study to examine the effects of providing multiple forage sources to stabled horses. The hope was that a choice of forages would encourage natural browsing and decrease abnormal behaviors.

Horses in the study were fed hay and grain according to their energy needs and turned out on mixed-grass pasture for four hours per day. While stabled, horses were randomly exposed to either their usual hay (single forage), or a selection of six novel forages (multiples), including ryegrass haylage, leafy hazel twigs, commercial fiber cubes, whole carrots, the barn's usual hay, and swede (a biannual plant). Horses were videotaped in the stall to document behavior. In a second trial, the single forage was replaced with each horse's preferred forage from the multiples selection, and the experiment was repeated.

Results indicated that the hay normally fed in this facility was the least preferred forage among all horses. This might be the result of simple boredom or perhaps increased palatability of the novel forages. Importantly, three horses which had previously exhibited abnormal stall behaviors continued these behaviors in the single forage stall, but exhibited none of them in the multiples stall.

This suggests that providing multiple, novel forage feeds in the stall can distract horses from abnormal behaviors and encourage natural browsing and grazing, as though the horses were at pasture.

Goodwin, D.; Davidson, H.P.B.; Harris, P. Equine Veterinary Journal, 34 (7), 686-691, 2002.

About the Author

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD, is a free-lance writer in the biomedical sciences. She practiced veterinary medicine in North Carolina before accepting a fellowship to pursue a PhD in physiology at North Carolina State University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two sons.

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