Understanding sleep-related behaviour (and lack of) as a measure of welfare using the horse as model

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


    Horses sleep for an average of 3 hours inside of a 24-hour time budget, less than half of the time spent asleep by humans. As a large prey animal, the horse appears to have adapted to function optimally on comparatively little sleep. However, current knowledge pertaining to the importance of obtaining sleep, what is quantifiable as ‘good quality sleep’, and the consequences of depleted sleep opportunities is still lacking in terms of equine welfare. Using recumbent behaviour as a recognised marker for when horses most effectively rest and engage in Rapid Eye Movement sleep, this paper discusses factors known to alter equine sleep that may thus affect equine welfare. In particular, 1) The influence of equine husbandry practices on nocturnal behavioural profiles should not be underestimated. Straw bedding may be used to facilitate a nocturnal behavioural repertoire that promotes more biologically significant behaviours including greater than average recumbent behaviour in the stable. Recumbency is seen as an instinctive behaviour linked to rest across species although the extent to which prolonged duration may be considered a beneficial adaptation is yet to be discussed. 2) Significant differences in nocturnal behavioural profiles have been observed for horses acclimatising to overnight stabling from overnight turnout suggesting that horses may suffer from sleep deprivation as a result of changes in routine. Sleep duration has also been positively correlated with competition performance suggesting that the impact of novel overnight environments at competition location may require further consideration 3) Finally preliminary studies of nocturnal auditory enrichment within the stable indicate that this type of intervention may help to reduce behavioural switching during the nocturnal behavioural repertoire. Future research may consider the use of sleep deprivation may be a useful measure of the quality of sleep where indeed this has been linked to emotionality in previous research.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018
    EventAssociation for the Study of Animal Behaviour Winter meeting 2018 - Zoological Society of London, London, United Kingdom
    Duration: 6 Dec 20187 Dec 2018


    ConferenceAssociation for the Study of Animal Behaviour Winter meeting 2018
    Abbreviated titleASAB Winter 2018
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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