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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • Pony Club;
  • misbehaviour;
  • longitudinal study;
  • poor performance;
  • risk factor

Summary

Reasons for performing study: Horse misbehaviour is an important cause of poor performance in Pony Club horses, is associated with horse-related rider injuries and has been implicated as a nonspecific presenting sign for musculoskeletal pain. Despite this, little is known about the incidence of and risk factors for misbehaviour in Pony Club horses.

Objective: This study aimed to describe the incidence and types of misbehaviour in a cohort of Pony Club horses and to identify risk factors for misbehaviour during riding.

Methods: A prospective longitudinal study was conducted with 84 Pony Club horses from 41 families belonging to 7 Pony Clubs in one inland region of Australia. Owners recorded misbehaviour events and kept daily records of horse housing, exercise, nutrition, healthcare and disease status. Horses were subjected to a monthly veterinary examination. Descriptive statistics were calculated to describe the incidence of misbehaviour, and multivariable logistic regression was used to assess putative risk factors.

Results: Misbehaviour during riding occurred on 3% of days when horses were ridden. On 52% of days with misbehaviour, the misbehaviour was classified as dangerous. Risk of misbehaviour was independently increased on exercise days when the horse was competing, and in months when the horse was fat or obese, fed supplementary feed daily, grazed on paddocks with >50% of ground cover as green grass, exercised on 5 days per month or less, and ridden for a total of 12 h or more in the month. No significant relationship was detected between misbehaviour and back pain.

Conclusions: In populations such as the study population the risk of misbehaviour is higher in fatter horses, in horses with access to pastures with greater green grass cover, in those fed daily supplements, in horses receiving exercise less frequently, and during competition.

Potential relevance: These results highlight the importance of considering horse body condition, nutrition and exercise in any investigation of horse misbehaviour. In addition, recommendations based on these results could be used by veterinarians assisting horse owners to prevent misbehaviour. From the perspective of recreational horse owners, behaviour is a key determinant of horse performance.