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Validity of activity meters for use as welfare assessment tool in horses

Year: 2022

Valle Sanchez-Izquierdo Lozano
University of Edinburgh, UK

Supervisor(s): Dr Tamsin Coombs


Typical management of domesticated equids results in limited turnout and exercise, social isolation and restricted forage which in turn can lead to significant physical and psychological welfare issues. It has been proposed that time budgets(with specific focus on time spent resting, foraging and moving) may be an indicator of welfare status.

GPS tracking systems, pedometers or accelerometers offer a means of collecting large amounts of data on physical activity, without the need to for continuous behavioural observation of the animal directly which is very time consuming. However these devices need to be validated to ensure the are measuring activity accurately.

The aim of this study is to validate tri-axial accelerometer based activity loggers as a tool to measure activity and movement in horses, and to identify  the best location to attach the meters to ensure accuracy and horse comfort. If successfully validated, it is planned that the activity meters will then be used in two wider projects aimed at assessing housing systems that aim to increase movement and exploration in horses.

Ten horses will be fitted with 3 tri-axial accelerometer based activity loggers; to their head, to their foreleg and to their neck or body. Horses will be turned out into their normal social group and data collected for 24 hours. Data on number of bouts of activity, duration of bouts and total activity will be obtained. Alongside these data, behavioural observations of the horses will also be made. Each horse will be observed for 2 hours ( 4 x 30 minutes sampling) over the 24 hours. Time-stamps on the activity meter will be matched with the same time period during direct observation and used to validate the accuracy of the automated data collection. It is hoped that signatures with the activity meter will be identified that indicate particular behaviours allowing calculation of time budgets (eg proportion of time spent grazing, moving and resting) for hoses as well as total activity levels. Data collected from activity meters placed at different locations on individual hoses will also be compared in order to determine the best place to fix these in future studies.