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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Frequency and nature of health issues among horses housed in an active open barn compared to single boxes-A field study

Kjellberg, Linda; Dahlborn, Kristina; Roepstorff, Lars; Morgan, Karin


Background: Keeping horses in open barns has positive effects on social interaction and free movement, which may improve horse welfare. However, many horse owners fear that housing in open barns leads to more injuries.Objective: To compare health events among horses housed in an active open barn (AOB) or in single boxes (BOX).Study design: A prospective study during 9 months and a 2-year retrospective study.Methods: Two housing systems in one farm were investigated: AOB and BOX in pairs or alone in paddock (2-4 h/day) using 66 and 69 horses in the prospective respectively retrospective study. Lameness, wounds, colic and days lost from training were recorded.Results: There were lower prevalences of lameness and colic in AOB than in BOX (18% vs. 26% and 0% vs. 5%; p < 0.001). Overall, there was a larger proportion of individuals with health events in AOB (83%) compared with BOX (52%) (p < 0.01). However, number of days lost to training did not differ between AOB (10 +/- 15 days) and BOX (15 +/- 34 days) (p = 0.36). There were no significant differences between the housing systems in number of health events/horse in the retrospective study: AOB 1.54 +/- 1.51 versus BOX 1.14 +/- 1.20 (p = 0.22).Main limitations: The different, not standardised, housing systems varied in size and number of horses with no individual consideration in this descriptive field study with no possibility to cross-over. A convenience sample was used.Conclusions: Lameness and colic were less frequent in the AOB system compared to single boxes, probably because the horses in the open barn could move freely day and night. Horses in AOB had a higher prevalence of wounds due to interactions between horses, but this did not lead to more days lost from training.


colic; group housing; health; horse; lameness; loose housing; welfare

Published in

Equine Veterinary Journal
Publisher: WILEY