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The foot morphology and health in Przewalski’s horses in the Hortobágy Puszta, Hungary (Brian Hampson, Jana Doleckova, Kristin Brabender, Waltraut Zimmermann and Chris Pollitt)


Recent research has provided evidence that suggests feral horses (Equus f. ferus caballus) living in vast habitats in Australia and New Zealand are subject to similar hoof pathology as their domestic relatives1, 2, 3. Feral horses suffer foot pathologies apparently as a consequence of reduced hoof wall wear in soft environments, overuse in hard environments and inappropriate nutrition leading to laminitis. Laminitis has been reported in 3 from 17 Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) mares kept in a semi feral environment4, apparently as a consequence of ingestion of pasture high in carbohydrate. The study of the foot health in feral (Equus ferus caballus) and wild horses (Equus ferus przewalskii) gives the veterinary and farriery professions insight into the effects of environment on horse foot health and may assist in the development of better management strategies for both subspecies. The current study investigated the foot morphology and foot health in a subpopulation of Przewalski’s horses roaming freely in the Hortobágy Puszta which is part of the largest Central European steppe area.

The Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii), also known as Mongolian wild horse or Takhi, is the only surviving wild relative of the domestic horse. The average weight of Przewalski’s horse is 280 kg and 350 kg for mares and stallions respectively. lt can be regarded as a representative of a group of related species, which were once widely distributed over Europe and Asia and from which the domestic horse derived5. The Przewalski’s horse became extinct in the Gobi desert in the late 1960s but the species has returned to its natural habitat and other areas in the range of Mongolia and China due to breeding and reintroduction programs. The European wild horse, also known as Tarpan (Equus ferus gmelini), was hunted to extinction in the 19th century6. In Hungary, preserving open grassland with large herbivore species is no longer possible with the wild Tarpan, so Przewalski’s horses were introduced in 1997 for managing the landscape in the Pentezug area of the Hortobágy Puszta. Together with the "Aurochs" (Bos primigenius f. taurus, genetic reconstruction of the ancient Aurochs Bos primigenius) they represent large herbivores that keep the landscape open.

The Pentezug is a steppe area which is now a biosphere reserve for wild horses6,7. Its area is 2388 ha (27 ha wood, 2361 ha meadow) and is situated in the middle of the Hortobágy Puszta. Pentezug is a former grass land that during summer is characterised by yellow Meadow Inula, and the blue Thrift which is endemic for the Hungarian lowland plane. Like the rest of the Hortobágy steppe areas Pentezug is characterised by a narrow mosaic of different plant communities. In addition to marsh plant communities which make about 10% of the area, at least three different grass communities occur in the drier areas. These can be roughly structurally divided into long grass and short grass steppe. The long grass or meadow covers about 15% of the area, 44% are covered with short grass steppe which is rich in Fescue species. About 30% is eroded area loosely covered with plants tolerant of salt. The climate is...

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