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Extension > Horse Extension - Research Updates > Stress Response of Young Horses to Changes in Housing

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stress Response of Young Horses to Changes in Housing

Separating young horses from their group and stalling them in individual boxstalls is stressful.

For initial training, horses are often transferred from group housing to individual boxstalls, which is a potential stressor.

In a study conducted in Austria, salivary cortisol concentrations (an indicator of stress), locomotion activity, and heart rate were analyzed in eight 3-year old mares. Mares were transferred abruptly from group paddock housing to individual boxstalls without paddock access. Data were collected for 4 days while mares were in group housing and for 5 days immediately after the change in housing in individual boxstalls.

Once in boxstalls, mares underwent routine equestrian training for young horses. While in group housing, cortisol concentrations showed a diurnal rhythm with values approximately 0.6 ng/ml in the morning and a decrease throughout the day. When horses were moved to boxstalls, cortisol concentrations increased to 1.8 ng/ml within 30 minutes and did not return to baseline values for 6 hours. On the days following the housing change to boxstalls, a cortisol diurnal rhythm was re-established but at a higher level compared to the level found in group housing. Locomotion activity was higher when mares had access to a paddock than when kept in individual boxstalls and heart rate increased for approximately 60 minutes when mares were separated from their group.

This study confirms what was previously thought; separating young horses from their group and stalling them in individual boxstalls is perceived as stressful.

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