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PLoS One. 2009 Oct 28;4(10):e7625. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007625.

Could work be a source of behavioural disorders? A study in horses.

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  • 1Université de Rennes 1, UMR 6552 Ethologie Animale et Humaine, Unité Mixte de Recherche CNRS, Campus de Beaulieu, Rennes, France. martine.hausberger@univ-rennes1.fr

Abstract

Stress at work, as shown by a number of human studies, may lead to a variety of negative and durable effects, such as impaired psychological functioning (anxiety, depression...). Horses share with humans this characteristic of working on a daily basis and are submitted then to work stressors related to physical constraints and/or more "psychological" conflicts, such as potential controversial orders from the riders or the requirement to suppress emotions. On another hand, horses may perform abnormal repetitive behaviour ("stereotypies") in response to adverse life conditions. In the present study, we investigated whether the type of work the horses are used for may have an impact on their tendency to show stereotypic behaviour (and its type) outside work. Observations in their box of 76 horses all living in the same conditions, belonging to one breed and one sex, revealed that the prevalence and types of stereotypies performed strongly depended upon the type of work they were used for. The stereotypies observed involved mostly mouth movements and head tossing/nodding. Work constraints probably added to unfavourable living conditions, favouring the emergence of chronic abnormal behaviours. This is especially remarkable as the 23 hours spent in the box were influenced by the one hour work performed every day. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of potential effects of work stressors on the emergence of abnormal behaviours in an animal species. It raises an important line of thought on the chronic impact of the work situation on the daily life of individuals.

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