Sometimes we take vacations and they feel more stressful than our regular day-to-day lives, and the same thing happens to horses. A Spanish study recently looked at stress in horses that are off from work for a period or vacationing. When working horses move to a new pasture for a lengthy break from work, they are initially stressed by the change of location. After a few weeks, their stress levels tend to decrease and they can actually get some vacation time.
It was believed that moving the horses from the working area would be the best method of giving them a break from the daily work schedule because a new area would have open spaces and no familiar working areas. However, Dr. Manual Lopez-Bejar says that the new space implied changes in daily management and nutrition, plus less guided activity. Mammals respond to environmental stress with a release of cortisol. The researchers checked resting cortisol levels in hair samples from eight Spanish stallions during a 3-week period off work. The researchers indicated hair samples can provide an overview of long-term stress while short-term stress is determined by analyzing fecal and salivary samples. During the working season, these stallions were kept in box stalls and for the rest period they were turned out to pasture with unlimited forage, no set routines, no work, were fed by different people, and were around different horses. I can see how this would be initially stressful. There was a significant increase in hair cortisol to go along with the stress. So, nearing the end of summer, some people consider giving their horses a rest. Resting is good but remember that any changes should be slowly integrated rather than an abrupt change.