EQUUS - - Medical Front -

A new study chal­lenges many long-held as­sump­tions about paw­ing, sug­gest­ing the be­hav­ior has less to do with bore­dom than with dis­com­fort as­so­ci­ated with ex­er­tion.

The Cor­nell Univer­sity study was based on 41 Stan­dard­bred race­horses. “We used Stan­dard­breds be­cause paw­ing was the only be­hav­ior about which their train­ers com­plained,” says Kather­ine Houpt, VMD, PhD. The horses were sta­bled at the New York State Fair­grounds while in train­ing and kept in box stalls with dirt floors. They were ex­er­cised for 30 min­utes daily, Mon­day through Satur­day.

The re­searchers ob­served the horses for brief pe­ri­ods twice daily for 62 days, at 7:30 a.m. and at 4:00 p.m. Each horse’s ac­tiv­i­ties were then doc­u­mented us­ing sev­eral be­hav­ior cat­e­gories in­clud­ing paw­ing, weav­ing, drink­ing, ly­ing [in ster­nal po­si­tion or flat] or stand­ing. Over­all, 58.5 per­cent of the study horses were seen paw­ing at least once, and within that group, paw­ing ac­counted for nearly 9 per­cent of all ob­served be­hav­ior.

Anal­y­sis of the col­lected data sug­gested that nei­ther age nor gen­der in­flu­enced a horse’s like­li­hood to paw. But the re­searchers dis­cov­ered an un­ex­pected pat­tern: Horses were more likely to paw in the af­ter­noon, after they had been ex­er­cised, and they were less in­clined to en­gage in the be­hav­ior on Sun­days, when they were not ex­er­cised at all. “Paw­ing is typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with bore­dom and lack of ac­tiv­ity, so this find­ing was sur­pris­ing,” says Houpt.

What’s more, paw­ing was most common dur­ing the af­ter­noon be­hav­ior check, which was made two hours be­fore meal­time. This, says Houpt, sug­gests that the horses were not paw­ing be­cause they were an­tic­i­pat­ing feed­ing time.

Th­ese fac­tors, says Houpt, “led us to think this was com­fort-seek­ing be­hav­ior.” The re­searchers hy­poth­e­size that post-work­out sore­ness may help ex­plain the in­crease in paw­ing dur­ing the af­ter­noons. They also spec­u­late that the horses may paw to cre­ate holes in the floor where they can place their feet to re­dis­tribute weight or to com­pen­sate for un­even floors.

In their pa­per, the re­searchers note that “many anec­do­tal ob­ser­va­tions of the horses show­ing paw­ing

SEEK­ING RE­LIEF? New re­search sug­gests that horses may paw be­cause they are un­com­fort­able rather than bored.

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