Euet, A., Lemarchand, J., Parias, C., Mach, N. et al. 2019. Housing horses in individual boxes is a challenge with regard to welfare. Animals 9(9), 621.
Horses are mainly housed in individual boxes. This housing system is reported to be highly detrimental with regard to welfare and could trigger the expression of four behavioural indicators of a compromised welfare state: stereotypies, aggressiveness toward humans, unresponsiveness to the environment, and stress-related behaviours. The aim of this study was to identify housing and management factors that could alleviate the detrimental effects of individual boxes on welfare. A total of 187 horses were observed over 50 days by scan sampling. The impact of 12 factors was investigated on the expression of the four behavioural indicators in three different analyses. The results show that the majority of factors tested did not influence the expression of the behavioural indicators. Only three (straw bedding, a window opening onto the external environment, and a reduced quantity of concentrated feed) would have beneficial, although limited, effects. Furthermore, the longer the horses spent in individual boxes, the more likely they were to express unresponsiveness to the environment. To preserve the welfare of horses, it seems necessary to allow free exercise, interactions with conspecifics, and fibre consumption as often as possible, to ensure the satisfaction of the species' behavioural and physiological needs.