Though many of the traits linking domestic horses to their wild ancestors have been dulled or lost during the years man has worked with them, some characteristics remain the same, including a horse’s need for other equine interaction. Many horses kept for sport or for recreation are housed in stalls, which is completely contradictory to how they live in the wild. Though many horses receive turnout in groups to satisfy their herd and play instincts, one group rarely gets these needs met: stallions.
The vast majority of stallions are housed and turned out separately from all other horses, spending their time alone and sequestered from other horses, which is not good for their wellbeing. Dr. Silvana Popescu of the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Cluj-Napoca, in Romania, recently completed a study that determined that this management can have serious effects on the horse’s physical, mental and emotional states, reports The Horse.
She noted that because of lack of manpower or staff training that most stallions end up confined to their stalls nearly 24 hours a day; some stallions receive no exercise other than the walk to and from the breeding shed. Stallions are often thought to be high-strung and dangerous, but how they are managed—with confinement and isolation–may perpetuate this behavior.
Though an outdoor, 24/7 living situation with other horses may not seem feasible for stallions, it has been done—with precautions in place. For stallions to live like this, mares cannot be in locations where the stallions can see, smell or hear them. Stallions cannot be turned out together when it’s breeding season, which will exponentially increase the chance of fighting and injury. If a stallion is turned out alone, it’s imperative that he be able to see other horses, though mares in heat should be kept away from the fence lines.
Interestingly, stallions kept in stalls near other stallions don’t feel safe. Stalled stallion’s cortisol levels were higher than those stallions that were housed in a group. The increase in stress hormones is likely caused by aggression toward other stallions that they can see through the bars or mesh in their stalls.
Living in a herd situation allows the horses to get away from an aggressor; being housed in a stall leaves the horse nowhere to escape; he is forced to constantly see other stallions. One option to lower stalled stallion’s stress levels is to offer them a wall that is either solid or only partially filled with grids that allow for nose-to-nose contact.
Regardless of how stallions are kept, keen observation of them and their potential interactions with other horses they can see is key. Just because stallions are intact doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be afforded the ability to socialize and move around; research will continue to cone up with ways in which stallions can be afforded the same freedoms as other horses without sacrificing their safety.
Read more at The Horse.
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