Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2015Peer reviewed

A Nordic survey of management practices and owners' attitudes towards keeping horses in groups

Hartmann, Elke; Norling, Yezica; Rundgren, Margareta; Keeling, Linda


Keeping horses in groups is widely recommended but limited information is available about how this is implemented in practice. The aim of this survey was to describe how horses are kept in the Nordic countries in relation to sex, age, breed, and equestrian discipline and to assess owners' attitudes toward keeping horses in groups. Horse owners in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden were approached using a web-based questionnaire, which was translated into 4 languages and distributed online via equestrian forums, organizations, and social media. The number of respondents was 3,229, taking care of 17,248 horses. Only 8% of horses were never kept in groups, 47% were permanently grouped for 24 h/d, and 45% were stabled singly but grouped during turnout. Yearlings were most often permanently kept in groups (75%), mares and geldings more commonly during parts of the day (50 and 51%, respectively), and stallions were often kept alone (38%). Icelandic horses were more likely to be permanently kept in groups (36%) than warmbloods (16%) and ponies (15%). Twice as many competition horses (51%) were never grouped compared with horses used for breeding (20%) or leisure purposes (15%). The majority of respondents (86%) strongly agreed that group housing benefits horse welfare and that it is important for horses to have the company of conspecifics (92%). Nevertheless, not all horses were kept in groups, showing that attitudes toward group housing may not necessarily reflect current management. The risk of injury was a concern of many respondents (45%), as was introducing unfamiliar horses into already established groups (40%) and challenges in relation to feeding in groups (44%). Safety of people (23%) and difficulties handling groupkept horses (19%) were regarded as less problematic. Results suggest that the majority of horses have the possibility to freely interact with other horses, either as fulltime members of a group during 24 h/d or during turnout. Future research should address the extent to which being a part-time member of a group affects horse welfare. For permanent group housing to become more widespread, such as it is the case for most farm animals, future research could focus on solving some of the reoccurring problems perceived with keeping horses in groups. The dissemination of evidence-based information on all aspects around keeping horses in groups can ultimately stimulate further positive changes in the management of group-kept horses.


group; horse; housing; questionnaire; social

Published in

Journal of Animal Science
2015, Volume: 93, number: 9, pages: 4564-4574