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Play or stress? New project on the question from what age young horses may be trained

[Translate to English:] Logo des Projekts HorseWatch.

[Translate to English:] HorseWatch erforscht Tiergesundheit und Tierwohl im Pferdesport

Animal welfare in equestrian sports is the focus of the HorseWatch research project, which will investigate how the housing and training conditions as well as the age of entry into training affect the health and well-being of horses. The Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomics will contribute its expertise in the field of sensor-based stress measurement in farm animals. The joint project "Investigation of the early use of horses and possible measures to prevent overstraining or overloading (HorseWatch)" will start on 1st of April 2022 and will be funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) for a period of five years. 

Whether children develop into sports fans or exercise sourpusses is often decided at an early age. That is why kindergarten children should already be active in sports. It is important that the sport is fun for the children. This is similar with horses. Even young foals run up to 10 km a day in the pasture. But at what age can playful exercise become systematic practice?


The minimum age at which training of young horses for riding or racing may begin is currently the subject of controversy. The recently revised Guidelines for the Welfare of Animals in Equestrian Sport largely exclude the training of horses younger than 30 months. However, there are exceptions for gallop and trotting horses. Questions also remain open with regard to the licensing of warmblood stallions: How can a performance test be implemented before the first breeding use of the young stallions without exposing the young animals to excessive stress too early?


Until now, there has been little scientific knowledge about age limits for the start of training in horses. A team of scientists from the Leibniz ATB in Potsdam, the Graf Lehndorff-Institute in Neustadt (Dosse), the FU Berlin and the University of Leipzig now wants to change that. Together with experts from the SVK-Sachverständigenkuratorium e.V. and the Wusterhausen Veterinary Clinic (Dosse), they will investigate the reaction of young horses to stress during initial training as well as possible influences of the husbandry system in the joint project HorseWatch. In five sub-projects, the aim is to determine the basic bodily functions, stress parameters, behaviour and the development of performance and health in relation to age in young horses on the pasture, in warmblood stallions and in gallop and trotting horses. Since the start of training usually also involves a change from group to individual stall keeping, which restricts social interaction with other horses and the possibility of free exercise, the influence of keeping on animal welfare and animal health is to be investigated at the same time.


"At the Leibniz ATB, we have been working for a long time on methods for recording stress and animal welfare in farm animals, including dairy cows. Our methodological approaches such as sensor-based data collection and animal-specific analysis will also be used in the HorseWatch project," explains ATB scientist Dr. Gundula Hoffmann. The veterinarian coordinates the HorseWatch project. "With the project, we want to develop fundamental findings that will help to shape the guidelines for animal welfare in equestrian sport in a scientifically sound way and to define an animal-friendly time for the start of training in horses, regardless of the direction of use."


The joint project "Investigation of the early use of horses and possible measures to prevent overuse or overloading (HorseWatch)" will start on 1st of April 2022 and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) on the basis of a resolution of the German Bundestag for a period of five years (project executing agency: Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food, BLE). In addition to the coordinating Leibniz-Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy (ATB) in Potsdam, the partners are: the Graf Lehndorff Institute in Neustadt (Dosse), the Institute for Movement and Training Science at the University of Leipzig, the Institute for Animal Welfare, Animal Behaviour and Laboratory Animal Science at the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the Freie University Berlin, the Veterinary Clinic Wusterhausen (Dosse) and the SVK-Sachverständigenkuratorium e.V. The umbrella organisations of German equestrian sport (Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung e.V., Deutscher Galopp e.V. and Hauptverband für Traberzucht e.V.), the Federal Veterinary Association, the State Animal Welfare Officers and the horse breeding industry are involved in the HorseWatch project.


Dr. Gundula HoffmannProjektcoordination ‚HorseWatch‘   
Tel.: +49 (0)331 5699-520

Jessica Lietze- Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Tel.: +49 (0) 331 5699-820

The Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy (ATB) is a pioneer and a driver of bioeconomy research. ATB creates the scientific foundation to transform agricultural, food, industrial and energy systems into a comprehensive bio-based circular economy. ATB develops and integrates techniques, processes and management strategies, effectively converging technologies to intelligently crosslink highly diverse bioeconomic production systems and to control them in a knowledge-based, adaptive and largely automated manner. ATB with its approx. 250 employees is member of the Leibniz Association, that connects 97 independent non-university research institutions from various disciplines.