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In this study the circumstances of horse husbandry in a region of Western Germany were gathered under aspects of animal welfare. For this reason a questionnaire based on recommendations and guidelines was created. Within the study 83 horse-keeping farms and 1580 horses were recorded.
The size of the farms differed between 2 and 220 horses. The farms’ plant utilization was 91.7 % on average (median). The recorded farms had often several focuses and were well equipped. For example 63.9 % of the farms had at least one indoor riding arena and all farms except one had pastures. All chores like feeding, mucking out or letting horses out on the pasture were mainly done by the farms.
In terms of gender, the population consisted of 47.9 % mares, 11.4 % stallions and 40.7 % geldings. The horses were on average 7 years old. 35.6 % of the horses were used as sport horses, 19.5 % as leisure time horses, 7.2 % as working horses, 14.2 % as breeding horses and 23.5 % of the horses were not used at all at the time of recording.
68 % of the horses were kept in an individual stall, many of them in outside boxes (42.7 %). With respect to several recommendations and guidelines 32.7 % of the stalls were too small. In group housing, the space for every individual horse was also mainly and in some cases much too small. Not one stall complied with all recommendations for equipment in horse stalls (like the height of partition between stalls etc.) Recommended climatic parameters in the stable especially air velocity and luminosity were often not complied with.
19.9 % of the horses had no possibility of direct social contact to conspecifics. In some cases the horses stayed in their stalls for 19.9 hours per day. The study was able to confirm the assumption that “today’s horses often stay in their stalls all day long”.
Training and free movement:
In the summer 5.6 % and in the winter 23.4 % of the horses had no access to a paddock or pasture. The hours spent on a pasture or paddock differed between summer and winter time. In the summer 26 % of the horses stayed 16 to 24 hours on a pasture or paddock. In the winter this rate decreased to 10 %. Most of the horses were trained daily. There were only small differences between summer and winter time and the duration of training depended on the type of use. The average of training for sport horses was 1.1 hours daily in the summer and 1 hour in the winter whereas leisure time horses were trained only 0.8 hours daily in the summer and 0.9 in the winter
The majority of the horses were fed 2 times a day with roughage, 83.8 % of the horses were fed with concentrates. Complementary feedstuff like minerals were given to the majority of horses. 72 % of the horse owners were convinced that they had enough knowledge to keep a horse and 73.3 % considered the husbandry of their horse to be species-appropriate.
The study has shown that recommendations for health management, size and equipment of housing systems, frequency and duration of free movement, possibility of social contact, feeding and stable climate were not always realized. It is doubtful whether a horse can, considering also the obtained time budget of the horses, satisfy its needs in the circumstances described. Such restrictions can cause reduced animal welfare.