Track grazing systems are anecdotally suggested to promote behaviour similar to free-living horses and enable turnout without risking laminitis. However the research that exists to quantify the impact on equine behaviour suggests limited space increases the occurrence of agonistic behaviour. The aim of the study was to quantify and compare behaviours observed on the Track system with those displayed in conventional paddock turnout. Five ponies (age range 10 to 28 years, mixed breed and sex) within an established social group, accustomed to both track and conventional paddock grazing were observed. Scan sampling was conducted every two minutes for an hour (0900, 1200 and 1500 each day) over five non-consecutive days during each phase, within a three week period. Ponies were observed in three phases; on the Track system (Track phase), immediately after moving to the conventional paddock (unhabituated phase), and following a week in the conventional paddock (habituated phase). A total of 2250 frequency data points were collected against occurrences of individual grazing, peer grazing, movement towards or away from peers, and movement towards or away from feeding opportunities. Significant differences in behavioural frequencies were tested using Wilcoxon Signed Rank (p<0.05). The occurrence of peer grazing appeared to be significantly higher (Z=-4.22; P<0.0001) in the Track phase (57.7 +18.6) compared to the habituated phase (13.6 +13.6), whilst the reverse was observed for individual grazing behaviour frequency (Track phase=22.0 +20.0; habituated phase=65.7 +14.9; Z=-4.29; P<0.001). Pony movement towards feeding opportunities (hay nets) was significantly more frequent (Z=-4.12; P=0.000) in the Track phase (5.8 +3.5) compared to the habituated phase (1.2 +1.5). Although there were no significant differences in movement towards or away from peers, movement was overall more frequent on the track system compared to the habituated phase (Z=-4.34; P<0.001). Significant differences were also observed when findings were compared against the unhabituated phase, highlighting the importance of an acclimatisation period. The Track system appeared to promote close proximity grazing more than the conventional paddock, likely due to limited foraging opportunities but also mimicking the collective behaviour of feral horses moving between foraging sites. Although further experimental work is required these provisional findings suggest that the track system can be used in equine management practices to promote positive equine welfare by providing opportunity to consummate innately motivated grazing and foraging behaviours. Lay person message: A small study comparing behaviour on a Track grazing system with conventional paddock grazing suggests that the use of a Track system helps to promote good equine welfare due to the occurrence of behaviours that are observed in free-living horses and ponies. Whilst conventional paddock turnout is used to enhance equine welfare, the Track system may offer an alternative way to manage pasture whilst continuing to facilitate positive experiences for the horse.
|Publication status||Published - Nov 2017|
|Event||13th International Conference of the International Society of Equitation Science - Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia|
Duration: 27 Nov 2017 → 30 Nov 2017
|Conference||13th International Conference of the International Society of Equitation Science|
|Abbreviated title||ISES 2017|
|Period||27/11/17 → 30/11/17|