Researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have conducted a study on the use of paddock shelters in the summertime. They sought to learn what type of shelters horses prefer and when and how often they use them.
Eight Warmbloods were used in the study. When turned out individually, the horses were presented with three options: a shelter with a roof and three enclosed sides (shelter A); a shelter with a roof and only the upper half of the rear wall enclosed (shelter B); and a shelter with enclosed sides, but no roof (shelter C).
Each horse was observed over a two-day period, kept individually for 24 hours in two paddocks with access to shelters A and B and shelters A and C, respectively. Shelter use was recorded continuously during the day and night, and insect defensive behaviours such as tail swishing and stomping were noted in five-minute intervals during the day.
The results showed that seven horses used shelters A and B, but given the choice between shelters A and C, shelter C was rarely visited. They noted that there was no significant difference in duration of shelter use between day and night, but that insect defensive behaviour decreased significantly during the day when horses were sheltered, compared to standing outside, especially when using shelter A.
As such, the researchers concluded that horses prefer enclosed shelters on the whole, but pointed out that individual preference did come into play. They hypothesized that some horses opt out of shelter use in order to maintain a visual on their surroundings, while others, particularly those who are used to being stabled, may experience an increased sense of security when sheltered.
The National Farm Animal Care Council’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines does not mandate installation of man-made shelter for horses in Canada, but it does require that they at least have access to natural shelter (e.g. trees or hedges) that protects them from the harmful effects of extreme weather conditions.