Put Your Back In To It: Equine Topline Reveals Welfare Status

by | 03.03.2019 | 10:11am

New research shows that a horse's back can reveal insight into their mental state. The posture of companion animals like dogs and cats has long been understood to be indicative of things such as anxiety and fear; Dr. Emilie Sénèque, Clémence Lesimple and Martine Hausberger set out to determine if ongoing stressful situations, which lead to stressful postures, could become chronic in horses.

The research team from the University of Rennes analysed photographs of 85 horses at 11 different riding schools. The scientists were specifically looking at the horse's topline using geometric morphometric measurements to determine the welfare state of each horse.

Horses that live in more-natural conditions, such as on pasture all or much of the day in a herd, tend to have a “rounder” body posture than horses that live isolated in stalls. Additionally, horses that are not ridden with strict riding techniques tend to have a rounder body posture, as well.

The physical assessment of the welfare of each horse was based on the presence of stereotypic behaviors like weaving or cribbing; ear position; and if the horse showed a depressed posture. The scientists also took into account the time spend outside, if the horses had other equine company, how much the horses were ridden and how much hay the horse was fed.

The results showed consistent results: Horses that had stereotypic behavior tended to have a flatter topline. Horses with depressed postures also had more-hollow backs.

The scientists conclude that the topline of a horse can be another tool used to assess equine welfare. A hollow topline is related to compromised welfare from management conditions, which include work quality. The scientists note that this profile may be related to school horses and call for additional research on more-diverse horse populations.

Read more at HorseTalk.

Read the full study here.

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