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Doctoral thesis, 2010

Managing horses in groups to improve horse welfare and human safety

Hartmann, Elke


The aim of this thesis was to investigate whether specific anecdotal concerns related to keeping horses in groups are supported by science and, if so, provide scientifically based recommendations that could be implemented in practice. The aim of studies I and II was to identify methods for mixing unfamiliar horses that could minimise aggressive interactions and associated risk of injury. Results of study I revealed that pre-exposure of young horses in neighbouring boxes tended to lower contact-aggression (e.g. kicks, strikes) and biting behaviour in particular was reduced when the same pair of horses subsequently met in a paddock. This was not found when older horses were mixed (study II). Aggressive behaviour received by a new horse was not significantly different in meetings when it met one other horse compared to meeting two unfamiliar horses at the same time. Removing a horse from a group of four in study III was generally unproblematic. Most horses approached the handler when she was catching the horse and while standing with it in the middle of the paddock. Thus, potential risk may be higher in situations when the handler remains relatively stationary, as other horses of the group have time to approach. Rank did not influence the number of horses following to the paddock gate and interactions between horses were rare. Since horses naïve to social separation may be more difficult to handle away from the group, the objective in study IV was to investigate whether the initial presence of a companion horse would modify responses to separation. Results revealed no significant differences in heart rates and the number of training sessions required when the horses were subsequently trained in the absence of the partner compared to horses trained alone from the start. In summary, results give little support for the original areas of concerns about mixing and separating horses. Risk of injury to both horses and humans should not be overestimated when handling horses in groups, but being aware of potential risk situations and being able to react accordingly is likely to increase horse welfare and human safety.


horses; behaviour; bites; injurious factors; animal learning; animal welfare; sweden

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2010, number: 2010:87
ISBN: 9789157675323
Publisher: Dept. of Animal Environment and Health, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health

UKÄ Subject classification

Other Veterinary Science

URI (permanent link to this page)