Yngvesson, J., Rey Torres, J. C., Lindholm, J. et al. 2019. Health and body conditions of riding school horses housed in groups or kept in conventional tie-stall/box housing. Animals 9(3), 73.

We compared welfare measures of horses among Swedish riding schools (RS) during winter where horses were kept either in group housing (n = 8) or in tie-stalls/boxes (n = 8), Health data for six previous months were obtained for all horses at each RS from their records. Ten horses per RS were examined, with the exception of one where only 8 horses were examined. Health conditions and body condition score (BCS) using the Henneke scale were recorded and management factors were quantified (health check routines, feeding, housing-related risk factors, time outside). RS-recorded health data (for 327 horses in total) revealed that lameness was the most common issue in both systems. Respiratory problems and colic were significantly more common in tie-stall/box horses. The percentage of horses with respiratory problems (mean ± SEM) was 5.8 ± 1.4 in tie-stall/box systems and 1.1 ± 0.8 in group housing (F = 8.65, p = 0.01). The percentage with colic was 2.38 ± 0.62 in tie-stall/box systems and 0.38 ± 0.26 in group housing (F = 8.62, p = 0.01). Clinical examination of 158 horses revealed 207 conditions in these horses, the most common being minor skin injuries in areas affected by tack (i.e., saddle and bridle, including bit). Such injuries tended to be more prevalent in horses housed in tie-stalls/boxes (1.8 ± 0.6) than in group housing (0.5 ± 0.3) (F=3.14, p = 0.01). BCS was similar between systems (tie-stall/box 6.2 ± 0.1, group 6.3 ± 0.1), but the average BCS exceeded the level that is considered optimal (BCS 4–6). In conclusion, we found that Swedish RS horses are generally in good health, particularly when group-housed. However, 25%–32% were overweight. Riding schools would thus benefit from having an independent feeding expert performing regular body condition scoring of all horses and advising on feeding regimens.

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