, Volume 99, Issue 4, pp 291–302 | Cite as

On the significance of adult play: what does social play tell us about adult horse welfare?

  • Martine HausbergerEmail author
  • Carole Fureix
  • Marie Bourjade
  • Sabine Wessel-Robert
  • Marie-Annick Richard-Yris
Original Paper


Play remains a mystery and adult play even more so. More typical of young stages in healthy individuals, it occurs rarely at adult stages but then more often in captive/domestic animals, which can imply spatial, social and/or feeding deprivations or restrictions that are challenging to welfare, than in animals living in natural conditions. Here, we tested the hypothesis that adult play may reflect altered welfare states and chronic stress in horses, in which, as in several species, play rarely occurs at adult stages in natural conditions. We observed the behaviour (in particular, social play) of riding school horses during occasional outings in a paddock and measured several stress indicators when these horses were in their individual home boxes. Our results revealed that (1) the number of horses and rates of adult play appeared very high compared to field report data and (2) most stress indicators measured differed between ‘players’ and ‘non-players’, revealing that most ‘playful’ animals were suffering from more chronic stress than ‘non-playful’ horses. Frequency of play behaviour correlated with a score of chronic stress. This first discovery of a relationship between adult play and altered welfare opens new lines of research that certainly deserves comparative studies in a variety of species.


Social play Stress indicators Animal welfare Domestic horse 



This work was supported by the Caisse Centrale de la Mutualité Sociale Agricole. We are grateful to the riding school staff, to H. Menguy for horses’ back examination and to Dr Ann Cloarec and J. Dallaire for correcting the English of this manuscript. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martine Hausberger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carole Fureix
    • 1
  • Marie Bourjade
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sabine Wessel-Robert
    • 3
  • Marie-Annick Richard-Yris
    • 1
  1. 1.Ethologie Animale et Humaine, Campus de Beaulieu bâtiment 25Université Rennes 1 UMR CNRS 6552Rennes CedexFrance
  2. 2.Département de Psychologie développementale et différentielle, Centre de Recherche en Psychologie de la Connaissance, du Langage et de l’Émotion PSYCLE EA 3273Université de Provence - Aix-en-ProvenceAix-en-Provence Cedex 1France
  3. 3.Laboratoire DeltavitJanzeFrance

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