animals used for sport, entertainment, recreation and work Horses’ responses to bitless bridles Bitted bridles are used almost universally in the equestrian world, but in recent years, there has been growing concern that such devices may cause great discomfort to horses.
Bits apply pressure to various parts of a horse’s highly sensitive mouth, and their improper use may lead to serious conflict behaviours such as bucking and rearing.
Bitless bridles apply pressure mainly across the nasal plane, less along the cheeks, and least across the nuchal crest.
The pressures employed with this bitless bridle are spread over a larger surface area than with a traditional bitted bridle and are essentially used to effectively and gently ‘push’ the horse in the desired direction.
The authors of this study compared the effects of bitted and bitless bridles on the behavioral and cardiac responses of six horses undergoing foundation training (bridling, long reining, and riding).
The researchers 4 of 8 found that during long reining, the horses wearing the bitted bridle took more steps than those in the bitless bridle after the application of the halt stimulus before achieving the halt.
This finding indicates that the horses in the bitless bridle were more likely than those in the bitted bridle to be able to perform the correct response to the halt command.
In addition, the horses wearing the bitless bridle had the lowest heart rates and heart rate variability during long reining, implying that these horses were experiencing the least stress when first encountering the rein.
The results of this study suggest that horses wearing bitless bridles performed at least as well as, if not better than, those in bitted bridles.
The use of bitless bridles could be beneficial in animal welfare terms, but the authors advise caution in drawing any conclusions drawn from their results due to the low number of horses used. Quick, J.S., & Warren-Smith, A.K. (2009) Preliminary investigations of horses’ (Equus caballus) responses to different bridles during foundation training.
Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 4: 169-176. Hot iron branding and microchip injection in horses Horses are routinely branded with hot irons to either identify their owner, or to allow owners to distinguish between individual horses.
As microchip transponders are now available for horses, it is possible that this technology might be an improvement over branding, as it could potentially cause far less pain and suffering to horses.
The authors of this study evaluated the behavioural and physiological responses of horses to both methods of identification, over a period of seven days.
The researchers found that, as expected, hot-iron branding on the left leg caused far more pain-related behaviour in horses, than did the microchip injection into the skin of the neck.
The site of branding also exhibited significantly higher skin sensitivity, temperature and swelling than did the site of injection.
Some of these effects were long term, and lasted well over 24 hours.
The level of stress hormones in the blood was not affected by either treatment.
The authors conclude that since hot iron branding causes more pain and discomfort to horses than does microchip injection, the latter method of identification should be preferred.
Moreover, there is also evidence that microchip identification lasts longer, and is more accurate. Lindegaard et al. (2009) Evaluation of pain and inflammation associated with hot iron branding and microchip transponder injection in horses.
American Journal of Veterinary Research, 70(7): 840-847. Grouping horses according to gender Horses are group living animals, and without the social contact of other horses, may develop abnormal behaviours such as weaving or increased aggression.
Horse owners, when putting horses together in groups, tend to do by gender, due to the belief that individuals in same-sex groups display less aggressive behaviour towards group-mates.
The authors of this paper tested this idea, in order to determine if such a practice indeed led to better animal welfare.
A total of 66 horses from four different farms in Norway and Denmark were placed into three groups: mares only, geldings only and mixed gender.
After about six weeks of acclimatisation, a trained observer recorded all social interactions in a group for two hours each day on three consecutive days.
The researchers found that the gender composition of the groups had no effect on social interactions.
In any case, the vast majority of all aggressive interactions across all groups were mere threats, and did not involve physical contact.
Most importantly, horses with the smallest space in which to live showed the most aggression.
The authors conclude that more attention must be paid to the space available to individual horses, than to group gender composition. Jorgensen et al. (2009) Grouping horses according to gender—effects on aggression, spacing and injuries.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 120: 94-99. research animals Attitudes towards the use of animals in scientific research Attitudes towards the use of animals in research vary widely within the general population.
It has been shown that a range of factors play a role in shaping such attitudes, such as an individual’s political 5 of 8 orientation, his/her personality, and whether s/he owns a pet.
However, research has also shown that people’s attitudes towards scientific studies involving animals can also be affected by the characteristics of the study itself, such as the type of animal being used.
The authors of this paper looked at three such study-specific characteristics, namely the type of animal used in the research, the potential benefit to humans resulting from the research (represented by the severity of the human disease being examined), and the level of harm suffered by the animal.
Over 570 participants were made to read fictitious medical scenarios describing research to be undertaken on animals; however, scenarios were systematically varied according to one of the three study-specific characteristics mentioned above.
Participants then had to answer a short questionnaire that asked about their attitudes towards the research mentioned in the scenario they had just read.
In general, women were more opposed to the use of animals in medical research than were men.
Moreover, regardless of sex or general attitudes about animals, participants were: 1) more opposed to research using chimpanzees and dogs than research using mice; 2) more opposed to research resulting in death or injury for the animal than research resulting in no harm; and 3) more supportive of research seeking a cure for a fatal disease than research seeking a cure for a non-fatal one. Henry, B. & Pulcino, R. (2009) Individual difference and study-specific characteristics influencing attitudes about the use of animals in medical research.
Society and Animals, 17: 305-324. Interactions of rats with different-sized objects It has been suggested that captive animals should be given as much environmental enrichment as possible, in order to maximise their welfare.
However, in laboratory situations, where hundreds of animals may be kept at once, this is often not possible, due to financial or procedural reasons.
The authors of this paper therefore investigated the interaction of laboratory rats with single enrichment objects, that differed only in size.
Eight rats were exposed to either a large (5cm X 3cm X 7cm) or small (3cm X 1.5cm X 1cm) object made of Lego bricks, and allowed to interact with it over four days.
The results showed that rats spent longer with large objects rather than small ones, and also spent longer climbing on top of the large objects.
This behaviour continued even when the large objects were lain on their sides instead of placed upright in the arena, suggesting that the rats were not simply climbing on the objects to investigate the top of the arena and thus an escape route, but instead were genuinely motivated to climb.
The researchers conclude that rat welfare could be enhanced by the addition to their cages of objects that are large enough to permit climbing.
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