I don’t usually write about horse behaviour and welfare, despite the fact that my love for these animals was the reason that led me into making the study of animals my profession. I grew up with horse breeding (my dad and my uncle bred sports horses) and horse riding and my first job as a 16-year old was training foals and young ponies. But it’s been a long time since, and for the last 20 years I haven’t spent much time around horses or even thinking or reading about horses. Perhaps combination of having once been so dedicated to them and now not being quite distanced makes me a little more hesitant to write professionally about horses, more so than a species I have had less contact with?
But occasionally my professional interest and my teenage passion meet – as was the case the other day when a short video about the Brösarp project came across my twitter feed.
In this interview in World of Showjumping, the veterinary expert behind the project Dr Ingvar Fredricson shares his philosophy of how to prepare horses for a long and healthy career in sports.
Is the idea of rearing future sport horses in a natural environment that stimulates locomotor activity revolutionary? Probably not from the perspective of what we know about the nature of horses, but definitely from the perspective of what is standard practice in equestrian sports.
From a research perspective, studying the effect of the early environment on health and durability in long lived animals such as horses is a huge challenge. We will only get to know if the summers spent roaming the hills of Brösarp make the horses better prepared for sustaining the pressure of international show jumping 10 years from now. And that is only for the first group of horses – this likely will have to continue for a number of years in order to generate data from a large enough number of animals.
But the first results regarding measurements of movement are already available – and great food for thought about how to keep horses. The horses kept in the 70 hectars enclousure in the nature reserve of Brösarps backar move about 13 km a day, about twice the amount compared to the control horses in a loose housing system with access to 2 hectar farmland pasture, and 4-5 times as much as the group which were stabled in combination with daytime access to a 0.5 ha pasture. The latter is unfortunately probably most representative of the way sport horses are kept – most likely to the detriment of both their mental and physical health.