Stall Size And Direction Traveling Affect Equine Welfare

Wider stalls and facing rearward may reduce transport stress on horses during long journeys. Wider stalls were especially beneficial in making it easier for horses to keep their balance, a study has found. Horses that struggle to keep their balance on long journeys were found to have an increase in muscle enzymes and worse gastric ulceration when their journey ended.

The transportation study was conducted by Dr. Barbara Padalino, from the University of Bologna in Italy, and Sharanne Raidal, from Charles Sturt University in Australia. The duo noted that there is no worldwide regulation regarding the minimal amount of space needed for equine travel or the direction in which the horses should face, which could potentially affect equine health and welfare.

The research team used 26 mares between the ages of 4 and 20 in a study to determine what direction they preferred to face when traveling and what stall size was most comfortable. They compared behavior and physical responses, as well as laboratory and gastroscopy parameters in confined and transported horses both before and after the trial.

Twelve horses were confined for 12 hours with no food in an area that was 58.26 inches by nearly 28 inches so the effects of confinement could be assessed without other transport-related variables. All the horses took a 12-hour overnight trip of nearly 550 miles in Australia; 18 of them travelled in a single bay (about 6 feet by 2.5 feet), 8 traveled in a wider bay. Ten horses faced forward and 16 faced backward. Their behavior both while traveling and confined was recorded and analyzed.

The duo found that stress-related behaviors increased during transport, but that horses facing backward in wider stalls had fewer balance-related behaviors like loss of balance, which is related to gastric ulceration and elevated muscle enzymes. The concluded that transporting horses in rear-facing, wider bays might reduce the impact of transport on equine health and welfare. The scientists recommend monitoring horse behavior during transit and keeping tabs on his vital signs once he arrives at his destination.

Read the full study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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