HorseWatch - Optimal start for young horsesPhoto: Kirsch/ATB
Whether children develop into sports fans or exercise muffs is often decided at an early age. This is similar for horses. In fact, even young foals move up to 10 km a day in the pasture. But at what age can playful exercise become systematic training? And how do you maintain the young horses' enjoyment of working with humans?
The minimum age at which training of young horses for riding or racing may begin is controversially discussed. For the protection of the animals, training prior to 30 months of age is virtually ruled out. Exceptions apply to gallop and trotting horses. With the HorseWatch project, we plan to record the reaction of young horses to stress during initial training and possible influences of the husbandry system. In this way, we intend to provide knowledge-based, well-founded guidelines for the equestrian sport and breeding industry in order to be able to optimally protect and promote young animals.
Young horses are not only subjected to unaccustomed stresses when they first start training, they also usually leave the group and move to individual stalls. Social interactions and freedom of movement are restricted. With HorseWatch, we are investigating how the horses react to the workload of training and what influence the type of housing has on their health and well-being.
In five subprojects we will investigate basic body functions, stress parameters, behavior, development of performance and health in relation to age and housing system:
- 2022-2023 Young horses on pasture.
- 2022-2023 warmblood stallions
- 2023-2026 galloping and trotting horses
The results can optimally be incorporated into the guidelines for animal welfare in equine sports.
The most important parameters to study the welfare of the animal are:
- Performance and
For information on how we investigate these, visit
The extensive project is coordinated by the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy. The project partners are composed of research institutes, practice partners and veterinary institutions and are supported by a panel of experts.
You can find the partners here:
The Animal Welfare Act was recently specified with the revised Guidelines for Animal Welfare in Equestrian Sports: Horses younger than 30 months may not be trained, exceptions apply only to gallop and trotting horses. With regard to the association licensing of warmblood stallions, initial adjustments have already been made to the breeding calendar, such as moving the licensing to the beginning of the year. These are already leading to discussions on how to implement the requirement of a performance test before the first breeding of young stallions without subjecting them to an excessive burden of another kind. Since there is hardly any scientifically based information available for postponing the age limits for the start of training in horses, the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) has now awarded the extensive HorseWatch research project with a duration of 5 years.