Welfare assessment of horses ridden in the Costa Rica National Horse Parade
The National Horse Parade of Costa Rica (NHPCR) is an equestrian event held annually to celebrate the national day of the horse rider. Public concern regarding the welfare of horses and riders during the event has increased due to the removal of horses in poor body condition, spine injuries, and hoof problems. An Assessment of horse behavior and stress response during these events has never been conducted. The objective of this study was to evaluate the horse behavior, fecal glucocorticoid metabolites and body weight as indicators of welfare during the NHPCR. In the Experiment 1, body weight and fecal glucocorticoid metabolites were measured in 13 Costarricense de Paso horses participating in the NHPCR. All measures were recorded at the horses' home stable 48 hours before and 24 hours after the event. In Experiment 2, three stations (equally spaced along the 3-kilometer parade route) were used to randomly conduct a scan sampling of the behavior of 513 horses. Eye-wrinkle and eye-white presence were recorded on 48 horses using photographs taken during the event. Fecal glucocorticoid metabolites showed no significant differences (p>0.05) at the two time points in the horses evaluated, and there was a significant weight loss (-7.08 kg) 24 hours after the event (p=0.00034). The scan sampling provided evidence that traits such as sweating (60.74%), bit chewing (54.70%), and active gait (65%) were more common than head tossing (28.88%), neck above the withers (6.83%), hyperflexion (28.71%), and ears pinned backwards (31.19%). A strong eye wrinkle was detected on 70% of the horses, while only 16% had the presence of eye-white. Although our results for fecal glucocorticoid metabolites were not conclusive, other behavioral traits indicated that over fifty per cent of the horses attending the NHPCR experience some level of stress.
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