Danish Horses Need to Stay in "Touch" with Each Other, Study Shows

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Horses need physical contact just like we do. The question is which form of physical contact they prefer.

Research at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences (DJF) at the University of Aarhus in Denmark has revealed that horses have a clear need for physical contact with other members of their species. Now researchers have started studying which form of physical contact horses favor.

In the preliminary stages of the study, a series of test horses were given the chance to greet another horse on the other side of some bars or a dividing wall, or by entering a room with another horse in it. The alternative was to go back to its stall where it could see but not touch the neighbor horse.

"The horses' need for contact with another horse - irrespective of how it was done - was so pronounced that it was impossible for us in that study to distinguish which form of contact the horses preferred," reported head scientist Eva S?ndergaard.

"The second stage of the experiment was therefore to investigate which form of contact the horses preferred, using a 'press button' method," she explained. "The method, which is used on other livestock such as cows and pigs, involves giving the animals a task to find out how hard they are prepared to work to achieve a certain result. With this method it is also possible to distinguish between an actual need and something that would just be nice to have, but is not absolutely essential."

The work for the horses involved pressing a button with the nose. The reward is contact with another horse in a certain way. By counting how many times the horses press the buttons, it is possible to measure the form of contact they are prepared to work the hardest for.

Denmark has the highest number of horses per capita in Europe. According to the researchers, it is therefore natural that Danes carry out research into horse behavior. DJF has a very important role to play in providing policy advice, for example in relation to the preparation of new regulations for horse owners. This means that the research results can be directly applied, once they have been tabulated and analyzed.

For instance, a draft bill by the Danish Ministry of Justice specifies that keepers of horses should have at least two horses. "This means that they will recommend that horses have social contact. But so far it has not been defined what this social contact should be and there is no minimum requirement set out. This is where our results can be useful," says Eva S?ndergaard.

For further information please contact: Scientist Eva S?ndergaard, Dept. of Animal Health, Welfare and Nutrition, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Aarhus, Denmark. Telephone: +45 8999 1319, e-mail: Eva.Sondergaard@agrsci.dk