How do different types of exercise affect the horse's activity in the stable?

How do different types of exercise affect the horse’s activity in the stable?

New research from Hartpury University investigates.

One of Trackener’s main aims is to help horse owners and riders monitor the impact of exercise sessions on the horse’s activity, anxiety and behaviour to see what is optimal for their physical and mental wellbeing. Consequently, we wanted to conduct a study where we could compare the difference between a structured exercise session, in this case a 20 minute period on the horse walker and a non-structured exercise session consisting of an hour’s turnout in the field. 

As many domestic horses now spend a large proportion of their time confined to a stable, we thought it would be interesting to see how movement in the stable (also known as voluntary activity) was affected by these two exercise conditions and whether or not the horse would be more restless or active after one condition than the other. The research was conducted by third year MSci Equine Science student Alexandra Pullen at Hartpury University.

Voluntary activity (VA) refers to any activity during stabling or turnout which the horse chooses to do by their own accord i.e. with no human influence (Brown et al., 2016). While there are many studies monitoring the VA of horses in the field and how field housing practices can affect the movement and behaviour of the horse, only a few pieces of research have investigated the VA of the horse whilst stabled. Although VA generally relates to any movement or activity, one of the most commonly recognisable displays of VA in the stabled horse is stereotypies which we know arises from the stress caused by domestic management practices and their contrast to innate housing. Previously known factors affecting VA include the type of housing, space available (Brehme and Rose, 2007; Hampson et al., 2010) time of day, consumption of feed (Brown et al., 2016) and exercise (Caanitz et al., 1991) although the types of exercise that affect VA have not yet been investigated. 

Between October and December 2018, 7 horses of varying age, breed and location were assessed. All horses wore a Trackener Life horse monitoring device to record their voluntary movement while in the stable and were stabled for a minimum of 6 hours a day. To reduce other factors affecting the data, all horses maintained their normal routine throughout the study. The two exercise conditions consisted of 20 minutes on a horse walker or 1 hour of turnout in the field, both of which were selected based on previous research. 

The overall results of the study showed there was no significant differences in VA following the two exercise conditions (P = >0.05), however the occurrence of time spent walking in the stable was slightly higher following the walker condition (8 minutes) than in the turnout condition (6.74 minutes), indicating greater VA. The amount of time spent by horses moving around in walk (WALK) whilst stabled was relatively low in comparison with the amount of time they spent standing still (STOP), spending an average of just 2.11% of their 6 hours stabled period walking, and the other 97.89% of their time stationary. Each of the horses also spent nearly 100% of their time standing as opposed to lying with just a few horses lying down for short periods of time.

These results are not dissimilar with previous studies which reported increased resting behaviour and dozing (i.e. standing) following exercise involving turnout (Autio and Heiskanen, 2005; Werhahn et al., 2012), behaviour which typically indicates low levels of stress and discomfort (Young et al. 2012). However time spent stationary could still refer to a range of other behaviours such as eating, being alert or possibly crib-biting. This identifies one of the weaknesses of the study as behaviour observations were not recorded during this time.

As for no significant difference in VA following the two exercise conditions, this would suggest the horse walker may be an effective alternative to turnout for allowing the horse to expend energy and remain relaxed when stabled and could even be used as a successful replacement during winter management when time and resources are limited. As this study was limited in size, analysis of bigger datasets is required to further investigate.

Our product has been designed to help anyone from vets and researchers to professional riders and amateurs, objectively assess the impact of their exercise and management routine on their horse’s wellbeing so that they can alter elements like time of exercise, type of exercise, turnout routine, feeding and stabling to achieve and maintain a happy and healthy horse. We will never replace each user’s sight or feel but with evidence behind observations and feeling, we can provide more understanding and analysis, particularly during instances when we can’t be with the horse. If you are interested in monitoring your horse(s), visit our website for more information or get in touch to speak to one of the team. Similarly, if you are interested in doing some research with Trackener, please contact us.

If you found this research interesting, leave us a comment with your thoughts and feel free to share with your friends and colleagues. More of our research is available here.


Autio, E. and Heiskanen, M.L., 2005. Foal behaviour in a loose housing/paddock environment during winter. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Vol. 91 (3-4), pp.277- 288. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2004.10.012
Brehme, U. and Rose, S., 2007. Effect of different activity and space offers on the activity behavior of stallions. Journal of Agricultural Engineering, Vol. 62, pp.408-409.
Brown, H., Marlin, D. and Harris, P., 2016. An investigation into the daily level of voluntary activity of stabled riding school horses. Comparative Exercise Physiology, Vol. 12 (4), pp.169-175. DOI: 10.3920/cep160009
Caanitz, H., O'Leary, L., Houpt, K., Petersson, K. and Hintz, H., 1991. Effect of exercise on equine behavior. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Vol 32 (1-2), pp.1-12. DOI: 10.1016/0168-1591(91)90148-Q
Freire, R., Buckley, P. and Cooper, J.J., 2009. Effects of different forms of exercise on post inhibitory rebound and unwanted behaviour in stabled horses. Equine Veterinary Journal, Vol. 41 (5), pp.487-492. DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2009.09.026