A preliminary study on the long-term interest of horses in ropes and Jolly Balls

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Abstract

A preliminary study involving riding school horses and 2 nonedible items, a Jolly Ball and a rope, was carried out to explore the long-term (2 weeks) interest of horses in these items. Twelve horses were observed in their stalls during 3 observation periods per observation day (10 am-11 am; 11 am-12 pm; 6 pm-7 pm) using the scan sampling method. Each object was presented to each horse for 2 weeks and observations were carried out on Saturday and Sunday after introduction (weekend 1), after 1 week (weekend 2), and after 2 weeks (weekend 3). Both items were hung up on the front wall of the stall. Items were presented to the horses in a rotation system so that each horse was exposed to each condition (ball, rope, control). Item-related behavior occurred to a limited extent, possibly due to the presence of sufficient hay quantities. The available bedding material also influenced the use of the items, as horses showed more item-related behavior when bedding material was unclean. The fact that both items were hung may also have played a role. Both objects were equally interesting but the ball maintained the horse's interest over a longer period. In the presence of the rope, however, no item-related behavior was seen at the end of the second week. There was no effect observed on general activities or on abnormal behavior. This finding might be due to the patterns of abnormal oral behavior (licking and manipulating box fittings) that the horses exhibited and the fact that the objects did not address the underlying causes of this behavior. When horses are appropriately reared, nonedible items are not useful as enrichment. In this study, balls seemed to maintain interest over a longer period. To explore the potential for long-term interest in nonedible items further, a more extensive study with a larger sample size and continuous behavior recording is recommended. The way of providing items should also be taken into account.

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