2017 WBFSH Seminar "The Horse's Perspective" on Horse Breeding and Open Barn Systems

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 07:33
Veterinary News

Gabriella Lindgren and Linda Kjellberg discussed new tools for breeding equine athletes and horses in active open barn systems at the 2017 WBFSH seminar on "The Horse's Perspective" in Gothenburg, Sweden on 22 August 2017.

The WBFSH seminar was held in co-operation with the Swedish Equestrian Federation (SvRF), European Equestrian Federation (EEF), and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and facilitated by Göran Dalin and Elisabeth Lundholm. 

The purpose of the seminar was to ensure that horse sport will remain relevant in our society and to build a platform for future cooperation between stakeholders of the equestrian world – i.e. in sport, breeding and science. It is important that public perception of the horse and its uses are not negative and that horse welfare is respected and safeguarded.

Assoc professor Gabriella Lindgren, MSc, PhD

New tools for breeding equine athletes –

Amongst other projects, Ass. Prof Lindgren is running an international project called “Horse Gene”, which is funded by the Swedish Norwegian Foundation of Equine Research, as well as by the EU Commission. Her research is based on selecting a phenotype and finding out which genes regulate this phenotype and which mutations influence it. Genetic information can be used to select for a favourable trait such as performance or to select against a gene that causes disease.

In her research, she is also studying the effects of inbreeding on performance.

Traits can be:

Monogenic traits:
Determined by one gene and the environment has little or no effect
e.g. coat colour, hydrocephalus in Friesian horses

Complex Traits
Determined by a combination of many genes and the effect of the environment
e.g. temperament, athletic performance

A study published in 2012 identified a monogenic C-to-A mutation in 4-gaited and 5-gaited horses (i.e. pacers and non-pacers).

The gene can be CC, CA, AA. Non-gaited horses are always CC (i.e. no mutant variant). Pacing is a recessive gene therefore almost all pacers have the genotype AA. The AA mutation allows horses to trot at high speeds without breaking into a gallop. There is a very high frequency of the AA genotype in Standardbreds (Trotters). Horses with CA have more difficulty sustaining the trot. In other disciplines such as dressage and show jumping the genotype is AA unfavourable, and in thoroughbred racehorses you don’t see it at all – they have the genotype CC.

Breeding is Evolution in high speed – by selecting for favourable or de-selecting against unfavourable traits.

Linda Kjellberg, MSc

Horses in active open barn systems – behaviour and welfare

There is a growing interest in the management of group-housed horses, especially in terms of behaviour, feeding and social interaction. The active open barn system used at Strömsholm/Sweden for an ongoing study is configured as follows for 24 horses:

  • Total paddock area is 3600m2 (150m2/horse)
  • 6 automatic forage feeders, 1 concentrate feeder (was not used in first week of study)
  • 1 hayrack with hay ad lib 4 lying halls, 23 m2/horse


  • Time to learn how the feeding stations work was defined as the horses consuming 90% of their daily forage intake. The horses were first shown by hand. 50% of horses learnt within 4 days, 70% of horses within 8 days and 95% within 16 days.
  • Having the forage & concentrate feeding stations is important to encourage flow within the open-barn system, otherwise some horses stay in the forage station and occupy it, therefore preventing other horses from entering it.
  • Eating time per horse must be measured (standardised for 1kg hay-silage at a time). To get a true representation of eating time, horses should be measured 5 times a day. This allows for adjustment of quantities fed per horse, so that weight can be maintained (otherwise some horses tends to get fat, and others may be underweight)
  • Differences between welfare and performance were studied for horses kept in individual boxes and horses kept in the open-barn system. Nine inspections were carried out over 18 months. Results showed very little difference between the two types of housing horses. Performance, muscle build and hoof condition were equal or almost equal. The body score for horses housed in the open barn was slightly higher. Coat condition and housing scores were slightly higher for the individually boxed horses.
  • Comparison between behaviour on summer pasture and in the open barn showed that the herd in the pasture is synchronised with low aggression and there was more aggression in the open barn. This contributes to welfare issues. The reason for this increased aggression can be attributed towards behaviour around the forage stations.

Related Links
2017 WBFSH Seminar "The Horse's Perspective" on Training Surfaces and Lameness Assessment