Husbandry Conditions May Impact Equine Welfare
Effects of breed, management and personality on cortisol reactivity in sport horses.
Author: Sauer FJ, et al. ( 2019), PLoS one.
ABSTRACT: Sport horses need to fulfill high physical and psychological requirements during training and competition. These as well as certain conditions of modern husbandry may affect their wellbeing. Here we aimed to (1) evaluate effects of demographic and management factors as well as personality traits on stress reactivity of sport horses, (2) investigate if elite sport horses have elevated stress levels compared to amateur sport horses, and (3) assess whether different equestrian disciplines differentially influence equine adrenal cortex responsiveness. For this purpose, we visited 149 healthy elite (n = 94) and amateur (n = 54) sport horses in Switzerland and performed an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test. Additionally, a person who was familiar with the horse completed a questionnaire about demographic and management factors and their horses’ personality traits. Linear models were calculated to assess associations between the questionnaire data and salivary cortisol 60 (T60) and 90 (T90) minutes after ACTH stimulation. While the model at T90 was not significant, post-stimulatory cortisol after 60 minutes appears most informative in line with a previous study and was significantly affected by the breed and by three management factors: “number of riders”, “hours spent outside” and “group housing” (adjusted r2 = 15%, p<0.001). Thoroughbred and Warmblood horses displayed an increased adrenal response compared to Franches-Montagnes horses. Horses with several riders had a less pronounced reaction than horses with one rider, and horses that spent more time outside had a decreased response compared to horses that were stabled most of the time. Horses living in groups showed higher post-stimulatory cortisol values than horses that were housed singly. However, no significant associations of cortisol responsiveness with personality traits were found, and neither the use as elite or as amateur sport horses nor the discipline had an effect on the cortisol response. This suggests that optimizing husbandry conditions may be more important for improving equine welfare than changing their use.
Keywords: Sport horses, stress reactivity, salivary cortisol , adrenal response, adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulation test
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