Are Chestnuts just ‘misunderstood’?

Researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia have investigated potential genetic associations between coat color and adverse behaviors in horses.

Mutations in the genes influencing melanocytes not only affect the color of an animal, but are also believed to impact physiological and behavioral functions. With this in mind, the common perception among horse owners that the chestnut coat color is associated with adverse behaviors seems plausible.

The research team gathered data through an internationally accessible online questionnaire, with respondents providing information on their horse’s behavior during general handling, whilst being exercised, towards different stimuli in their environment and when isolated from other horses.

Analyses considered behavioral data on 477 horses that represented a range of breeds, ages, and event disciplines. Read more.

Early warning signs of sickness

Assessing physical and emotional sickness in animals is a real challenge. Owners need clear and simple indicators of sickness in horses, a species in which suffering is largely underestimated.

Luckily, there are some early warning signs that should attract the owners’ attention. We take a look at alertness (responsiveness to environmental stimuli), interactive behaviours, yawning & play-behavior as non-specific but major indicators of sickness. Read the full story here.

Can ‘enriching’ your horse’s environment improve behavior?

In the life of a domestic horse, social isolation, confinement and unvaried food are commonplace. These conditions can induce welfare and behavioral issues.

Researchers at the University of Tours, France have investigated the effect of a 5-week enrichment program (straw bedding, daily group turnout & fractionated food delivery) on welfare and interactions with human handlers. Read more

Stall vs Pasture?

As human populations evolve away from our agricultural past, we’re losing the intimate connection with the essential nature of the horse. The more we confine ourselves indoors at work & home, this translates into increased stall confinement for our horses. Disruption of natural behavior patterns has been linked with digestive disorders and stereotypies. Researchers from Southern Illinois University find out what happens to horse behaviour as confinement increases.  Is there an acceptable balance between stall confinement & pasture? Find out here.

Veteran Nutrition

In humans and animals such as rats, cats and dogs, altered nutritional requirements associated with ageing include decreased energy requirements & ability to digest fat and protein, and increased requirement for protein. Because there’s little research comparing digestibility in adult versus senior horses, researchers from Michigan State University have investigated whether you need to change your veteran’s diet. Full summary here.

Should you give small-holed nets a try?

Horses have evolved as hindgut fermenters, designed to forage for small meals frequently, that, in the natural setting, are spread over around 14 hours grazing each day. Modern management systems often severely restrict a horse’s opportunity to forage, especially where horses are stalled for long periods. This common scenario can result in problematic health and behavioral issues. Whereas access to long periods of foraging tends to decrease such health issues and some behavioral vices.

Some farms have high stocking rates and poor pasture which further limits foraging opportunities even for horses who ‘live out’. Because of this, it’s often a struggle to replicate the amount of time horses spend foraging in a natural setting. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have investigated whether slow-feed hay nets can help replicate the natural foraging behavior of horses. Find out whether it’s something you should try… here

Advances in Equine Dental Care

Equine dental care has evolved rapidly over the last decade. There has been a revolution in dental research relating to the techniques, equipment and training of practitioners. So much so that treatment once considered implausible in the horse such as pulp capping, cheek tooth and root canal fillings are now being performed and researched in clinics by specialist equine vets.

Dental diseases such as pulpitis (when the blood and nerve supplies become inflamed), and periodontal (gum) disease are being identified at a much earlier stage thanks to enhanced imaging techniques such as digital x-ray, standing CT scan (computerized tomography) and oral endoscopy.

Despite these developments, advanced dental techniques that go beyond smoothing rough edges are met with scepticism by some horse owners who question the benefits of caps, fillings and tooth realignments and whether they’re really necessary. Read full report here….

Gaze behavior of elite riders

Equine scientists at Nottingham Trent University have investigated how eye movements of elite riders can determine their success in show jumping. In a world first, the research used state-of-the-art technology to compare the “visual strategies” of riders of varying experience, providing the first detailed insight into the gaze behavior of elite riders.

In sports involving hand-eye co-ordination, elite athletes are known to direct their gaze, make predictive eye movements and focus on important relevant features for longer than non-elite athletes. In show jumping, however, these visual strategies are particularly important when approaching a jump, where the skill of both the rider and horse combine to determine the correct take-off point.

Using a hi-tech mobile eye tracking device, the researchers recorded exactly what a rider looked at – and how long for – when approaching a jump. A spectacle-mounted unit was able to monitor the minute movements of the rider’s eye and then overlay those movements on to a video of where the rider is facing. When played back, the footage shows a red circle to depict exactly what the rider was looking at, frame by frame, during the approach to a jump. Read more here.