WHY HORSES SEEK SHEL­TER

EQUUS - - Eq Letters -

A re­cently pub­lished study from Swe­den sug­gests that horses head for run-in sheds to avoid in­sects rather than to seek respite from the sun.

For the study, re­searchers at the Swedish Univer­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sciences mon­i­tored the be­hav­ior of eight horses for two weeks in July 2012. Dur­ing the study pe­riod, each horse was turned out in one of four pad­docks for one day at a time. In two of the pad­docks there were two shel­ters: a three-sided shed with a roof, and an open struc­ture that had a roof but no walls. Horses were free to choose ei­ther shel­ter and move be­tween the two. The re­main­ing two pad­docks had no shel­ters.

“An open-sided shel­ter would give shade and al­low a sur­round­ing view but may be less ef­fec­tive in terms of in­sect pro­tec­tion,” says Elke Hart­mann, PhD. “There­fore, we wanted to ask the horses them­selves whether they ‘pre­fer’ an open or closed shel­ter.”

In ad­di­tion to de­ter­min­ing how long each horse stayed in each shel­ter, the re­searchers gath­ered data on weather con­di­tions---in­clud­ing tem­per­a­ture, wind speed and rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity---ev­ery 10 min­utes. They also did a daily count of in­sects col­lected in traps in the shel­ters and in a con­trol trap set up in a pad­dock some dis­tance from the horses.

Fi­nally, rec­tal and skin tem­per­a­tures were taken on all of the horses three times a day, and their be­hav­ior was doc­u­mented at five-minute in­ter­vals from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The data re­vealed that five of the seven horses who en­tered a shel­ter dur­ing the study pe­riod had a clear pref­er­ence for the three-sided shel­ter over the open struc­ture. The re­searchers noted a sig­nif­i­cant drop in in­sect-de­fen­sive be­hav­ior, such as skin shivers and ear flick­ing, when the horses were in the closed shel­ter, which sug­gests that the in­sects were less both­er­some in that type of struc­ture.

Tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the study pe­riod were mod­er­ate, reach­ing only 77 de­grees Fahren­heit. The re­searchers found no cor­re­la­tion be­tween tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity and shel­ter use, but they did find that horses were less likely to uti­lize a shel­ter on windy days.

Not­ing that fewer in­sects were caught in the traps on those days, Hart­mann says, “In­creased wind speed of­ten de­creases in­sect ac­tiv­ity, thus horses are more likely to be ob­served out­side shel­ters.”

She adds that in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ences could have also played a role in shel­ter uti­liza­tion dur­ing the study. “There may be other rea­sons be­sides in­sects and weather con­di­tions that can in­flu­ence whether a horse goes into the shed,” she says. “And some horses may have sim­ply liked to stay in­side.”

Based on the re­sults of this study, Hart­mann rec­om­mends of­fer­ing horses shel­ter, even when tem­per­a­tures may be mild. “If horses are kept 24 hours on pas­ture dur­ing sum­mer, I would rec­om­mend to of­fer shel­ter. At least horses would then have a choice.”

RESPITE: In a new study, horses showed a marked pref­er­ence for sheds with three sides, which of­fered greater pro­tec­tion from in­sects.

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