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Physiological and Behavioral Responses of Horses to Wither Scratching and Patting the Neck When Under Saddle


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Riding is considered to be an arousing activity for horses. It has been suggested that wither scratching may be a more useful tool for relaxation compared with the common practice of neck patting. In the current study, 18 horses were exposed to 3 treatments, including control or no interaction, neck patting, and wither scratching, for 1 min each following a short obstacle course. Heart rate, heart rate variability, and a variety of behaviors were measured in the horses. Wither scratching produced a significantly longer duration of relaxed-type behaviors. Wither scratching could be a useful tool to help a horse relax while under saddle. Additionally, the study identified 2 ear positions that may be useful for future research in horse behavior.
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Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
ISSN: 1088-8705 (Print) 1532-7604 (Online) Journal homepage:
Physiological and Behavioral Responses of Horses
to Wither Scratching and Patting the Neck When
Under Saddle
Zoë W. Thorbergson, Sharon G. Nielsen, Rodney J. Beaulieu & Rebecca E.
To cite this article: Zoë W. Thorbergson, Sharon G. Nielsen, Rodney J. Beaulieu & Rebecca
E. Doyle (2016) Physiological and Behavioral Responses of Horses to Wither Scratching and
Patting the Neck When Under Saddle, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 19:3, 245-259,
DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2015.1130630
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Published online: 09 Mar 2016.
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Physiological and Behavioral Responses of Horses to Wither
Scratching and Patting the Neck When Under Saddle
Zoë W. Thorbergson,
Sharon G. Nielsen,
Rodney J. Beaulieu,
and Rebecca E. Doyle
School of Animal and Veterinary Science, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia;
Quantitative Consulting
Unit, School of Computing and Mathematics, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia;
Department of Human
Development, California State University, San Marcos
Riding is considered to be an arousing activity for horses. It has been
suggested that wither scratching may be a more useful tool for relaxation
compared with the common practice of neck patting. In the current study, 18
horses were exposed to 3 treatments, including control or no interaction,
neck patting, and wither scratching, for 1 min each following a short obstacle
course. Heart rate, heart rate variability, and a variety of behaviors were
measured in the horses. Wither scratching produced a signicantly longer
duration of relaxed-type behaviors. Wither scratching could be a useful tool to
help a horse relax while under saddle. Additionally, the study identied 2 ear
positions that may be useful for future research in horse behavior.
Agitation; behavior; horse;
welfare; wither scratching
Historically, horse trainers have indicated that relaxation of the horse during riding is imperative to
facilitate learning and ease of training, as it allows the horse to be in a state more conducive to respond
to rider aids, which is also important for rider safety (McGreevy & McLean, 2010; Podhajsky, 1975).
Chronic stress may contribute to illness, stereotypies, and conict behaviors if the horse is trained and
ridden in a nearly continual state of tension and stress (McLean & McLean, 2008). Evidence suggests
that riding can be a stressful event, as it may mimic a predator attackingfor example, when the rider
mounts a vulnerable area that is not defendable with either teeth or hooves (Schmidt, Aurich, Möstl,
Müller, & Aurich, 2010).
Sometimes, riding manuals recommend patting the neck as a form of reward or a means to soothe
the horse (German National Equestrian Federation, 2013; Podhajsky, 1975). No comparable horse
horse behaviors to humanhorse patting have been identied; thus, patting may not be relevant
ethologically (McGreevy & McLean, 2010; Waring, 2003).
Allogrooming, or mutual grooming, is when a horse uses a scratching or nipping motion with their
upper teeth to groom a partner on a preferred area, usually across the withers (Feh & De Mazières,
1993; Waring, 2003). Allogrooming has been identied as a behavior of biological importance and
is performed by equines toward conspecics in a social bonding context and as a comfort behavior
(McDonnell, 2003; Waring, 2003). Equitation scientists suggest that mutual grooming may act as a
form of tactile communication to convey trust between equine participants (McDonnell, 2003), and
VanDierendonck and Spruijt (2012) proposed that allogrooming may further provide long-term
benets through self-rewarding properties. Incidences where horses have displayed allogrooming
toward heterospecics with whom they have some social afliation, such as dogs or goats, have also
been recorded (Fraser, 2010), further suggesting its ethological importance.
q2016 Taylor & Francis
Zoë W. Thorbergson is now at the University of Guelph. Rebecca E. Doyle is now at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
Color versions of one or more of the gures in the article can be found online at
CONTACT Zoë W. Thorbergson Open Learning and Educational Support Main Ofce, University of
Guelph, Johnston Hall, Room 160, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
2016, VOL. 19, NO. 3, 245259
Research has suggested that scratching the wither area of a horse seems to imitate allogrooming.
Horses have displayed reciprocal grooming behavior routinely toward the human during wither
scratching (WS; McGreevy & McLean, 2010; Waring, 2003). Research has also shown that grooming
or massaging around the wither area lowers the horses heart rate (HR) and produces relaxed
behaviors while in the stable (Feh & De Mazières, 1993; McBride, Hemming, & Robinson, 2004).
WS may therefore have the capacity to induce similar positive states in horses to those in
Often, HR and factors that measure HR variability (HRV), in combination with subtle behaviors,
can indicate the affective state of the horse (Schmidt, Biau, et al., 2010; Young, Creighton, Smith, &
Hosie, 2012). HRV is a reection of the equines stress response, as it indicates the balance of the
autonomic nervous system between sympathetic and parasympathetic tone. The standard deviation of
interheartbeat interval (SDRR), root mean square of successive interheartbeat interval difference
(RMSSD), and proportions of successive beats differing by 50 ms divided by the total number of
interheartbeat intervals (pNN50) are three time-domain factors that measure HRV (Task Force of the
European Society of Cardiology & the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology, 1996).
Dominance of either sympathetic or parasympathetic tone is indicated by a decrease or increase
(respectively) in HRV indexes (von Borell et al., 2007).
Observation of behavior may provide immediate evidence of a nonhuman animals affective state
while being noninvasive and easily identiable. Evidence suggests that subtle behaviors of ear, head,
mouth, tail, or leg movement may be used to identify a horse in a relaxed or agitated state (Young et al.,
2012). A variety of subtle behaviors are considered agitated behaviors at liberty (Fraser, 2010; Waring,
2003). Ears turned back (ears back) has been reported to indicate negative affective states, including
fear, discomfort, submission, avoidance, pain, or aggression in horses depending on the circumstance
(Dalla Costa et al., 2014; McDonnell, 2003; Waring, 2003). Research with sheep has also implied that
ears back may indicate an uncontrollable situation for the animal (Boissy et al., 2011). Ears pinned
against the poll area (ears at back) may indicate a mild to serious threat posture or that an aggressive
act is imminent (McDonnell, 2003). Tail swishing has been implied as a sign of annoyance or pain
(Fraser, 2010; McLean & McLean, 2008; Waring, 2003).
Stepping forward may be a sign of escape or avoidance behavior (McGreevy & McLean, 2010;
McLean & McLean, 2008). Open mouth,reeng on the reins (distinct pull against the reins), and
combined head above the withers and head below the withers (total AB) are three behaviors that may be
interrelated and may indicate that the horse is displaying escape- or avoidance-type behaviors
(McGreevy & McLean, 2010). Reeng on the reins is also an indication of incomplete training of the
stop response (McGreevy & McLean, 2010). Depending upon the context, other behaviors that are
believed to indicate agitation include stepping backward,raised tail,clamped tail,shaking the head, and
exposure of the white sclera around the eye (Fraser, 2010; Klimke, 2000; McLean & McLean, 2008;
Waring, 2003).
Numerous behaviors have been identied in the horse that are considered to indicate a relaxed
(positive) state at liberty (McDonnell, 2003; Waring, 2003). Both ears with the pinna facing outward
(neutral ear position) appears to be a reliable indicator of relaxation in horses (McGreevy, 2008;
Waring, 2003). Long snorting or sneezing a long, drawn-out snort is considered a sign of relaxation
while under saddle (McLean & McLean, 2008). A horse who stands still when asked to stop, with mouth
closed and without tension, is considered to be relaxed under saddle (German National Equestrian
Federation, 2013; Klimke, 2000; McLean, 2003; Podhajsky, 1975). Scratching or grooming in a
preferred area on a horse may elicit elongation of the upper lip, which may indicate that the horse is
experiencing a pleasurable sensation (Waring, 2003).
Head below the withers is displayed by horses in a relaxed state when at liberty (Fraser, 2010). The
horse may be experiencing some form of relaxation when the head is below the withers during
scratching, which is supported by the nding of McBride et al. (2004). However, training a horse
to lower his/her head below the withers may not induce a state of relaxation (Warren-Smith, Greetham,
& McGreevy, 2007).
For the purpose of the current study, behaviors were classied as ambiguous if previous research
indicated conicting results concerning the horses perceived affective state. Further research is needed
to discover whether these ambiguous behaviors are clear indications of the horses affective state. For
example, there is conicting research as to whether yawning and licking chewing indicate a state of
stress or of relaxation, and yawning has also been identied previously as being associated with the
presence of stereotypical behavior (Fraser, 2010; Fureix, Gorecka-Bruzda, Gautier, & Hausberger, 2011;
Krueger, 2007; Waring, 2003; Warren-Smith et al., 2007). Oral behavior of exposing the tongue (tongue
out) during riding has the implication of stereotypic behavior developed from chronic bit pressure
(McGreevy & McLean, 2010). Ear lateralization in sheep has been shown to indicate the affective
valence of the animal, but little research on this ear positioning has been performed with horses
(Reefmann, Bütikofer Kaszàs, Wechsler, & Gygax, 2009).
The aim of the present study was to determine whether horses respond differently to WS, neck
patting (NP), and no interaction (control [C]) when under saddle. It was hypothesized that WS when
under saddle would be more relaxing to the horse, resulting in a lower HR and the presence of more
subtle relaxed behaviors compared with when the horse experienced NP.
Materials and methods
All procedures involved with horse handling and testing were approved by the Animal Care and Ethics
Committee of Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia (Project Protocol
No. 13/037).
A total of 18 horses were recruited for the project. Horses used for pleasure or lesson riding were
chosen, and to participate in the current study, horses had to be of good physical health, familiar to the
rider and stable environment, commonly ridden, and 3 years of age or older. Horses were housed in
their home stables for the duration of the experiment, and each horse wore their usual saddle and bit or
bridle. Nosebands were tted with a minimum width of two ngers between the nasal bone and the
nose band to allow for exing of the jaw (British Horse Society & Pony Club, 1966). Horses were ridden
in their normal home arena for all three treatments. Each arena was rectangular and fully fenced with
proper footing for equestrian sports. All horses had experienced NP previously. Details of the animals
are provided in Table 1.
Experimental procedure
The experiment was carried out at ve different stables on 6 different days with six different riders
(Table 1). Prior to each horse being saddled, a health examination was performed where the following
were examined: HR, respiratory rate, back and girth area, any evidence of lameness, hydration, mucus
membrane color, and eye health. One horse was removed from the experiment due to hypersensitivity
in the girth area and the lumbar vertebral region of the spine and was replaced with another suitable
horse. All 18 horses used in the experiment were deemed healthy.
Each horse was saddled and then tted with a HR monitor (HRM; Polar RS800CX Science Edition,
Polar Electro Oy, Kempele, Finland). Following the instructions of the HRM users manual, electrodes
were placed under the saddle pad on the left side and under the girth on the left side. Water-based
electrode gel was applied to both electrodes on each horse to enhance conductivity (von Borell et al., 2007).
Each horse was ridden through a short obstacle course (20 m £40 m) as a washout period, before
each treatment, to minimize possible carryover effects. This period included a short warmup of walking
the inside perimeter of the arena 1.5 times, then proceeding through an L-shaped pole maze 1.2 m wide,
followed by weaving a slalom through four cones and then passing through two barrels spaced 1.1 m
apart (Figure 1).
After the completion of the obstacle course, each horse entered the video-recording area (1.5 m
and behavior and HR data were recorded for 1 min while the treatment was applied for a continuous
1-min period. This treatment length was modeled after the research by Tyler (1972), who concluded
that the time spent mutually grooming by mature mares was 56 s. The horse and rider then repeated the
obstacle course before entering the video area to administer the next treatment.
Table 1. Horses and number of stables, days, and riders.
Horse Breed Breed group
Age Stable Day Rider Equipment bit/saddle
1 Quarter Horse 4 G 17 1 1 1 Snafe/Western
2 Icelandic 2 M 10 5 6 6 Snafe/English
3 Icelandic 2 M 8 5 6 6 Snafe/English
4 Arab/Cross 3 M 15 2 2 2 Snafe/English
5 Paint 4 M 15 2 2 3 Hackamore/Western
6 Fjord 4 G 21 2 2 2 Snafe/English
7 Standardbred 1 M 4 3 3 4 Snafe/Western
8 Standardbred 1 M 5 3 3 4 Snafe/Western
9 Standardbred 1 G 13 3 3 4 Snafe/Western
10 Standardbred 1 M 4 3 3 4 Snafe/Western
11 Icelandic 2 M 13 5 6 6 Snafe/English
12 Icelandic 2 M 5 5 6 6 Snafe/English
13 Quarter Horse/Cross 4 M 23 4 4 5 Hackamore/Treeless
14 Arab 3 G 19 4 4 5 Hackamore/Treeless
15 Arab/Cross 3 M 7 4 4 5 Snafe/Western
16 Arab/Cross 3 G 32 2 5 2 Snafe/English
17 Fjord 4 G 5 2 5 2 Snafe/English
18 Lipizzaner/Hanoverian 4 G 15 2 5 2 Snafe/English
Horses were grouped into one of four categories for statistical analysis: (a) standardbred, (b) Icelandic, (c) Arab Arab cross, or (d)
other breeds.
G¼gelding; M ¼mare.
Video Area
L-Shaped Pole Maze
Figure 1. Plan of the arena. Dotted lines with arrows indicate the direction of travel.
Six adult female riders who had ridden consistently for the previous 5 or more years rode the horses in
the experiment. All riders demonstrated a balanced, independent seat and hands when riding. Riders
were familiar with the respective horses they rode. Each rider was provided with the ethics approval
number, research aim, and treatment protocol to help ensure a standard procedure for each treatment
on each horse. Treatments were dened as C, NP, and WS. Each horse was exposed to all three
treatments according to a balanced Latin square design to guard against order effect.
Wither scratching
Riders were instructed to scratch the area around the withers for 1 min after the riding activity had
ceased. The specic area scratched was at the base of the mane between the shoulder blades;
anatomically, this area corresponded with the dorsal anterior thoracic vertebrae 3 to 5 located in front
of the pommel of the saddle. Riders were instructed to scratch the horse with a raking motion of the
ngers with a rmpressure.
Neck patting
Riders were instructed to pat the horses on the neck for 1 min after the riding activity had ceased. The
specic area was between cervical vertebrae 3 and 6 on the right side of the neck, midway between the
mane and throat. Riders were instructed to pat the horse in a quick and gentle manner using the at of
the palm.
Riders were instructed to sit quietly for 1 min after the riding activity had ceased. Riders refrained from
any form of patting or scratching of the horse.
Data collection
Heart rate measures
During the 1 min of treatment, mean HR and HRV parameters, including SDRR, RMSSD, and
pNN50, were collected.
HR was recorded at 1-s intervals continuously during the treatments and C periods. A sampling
frequency of 1,000 Hz was used to provide a temporal resolution of 1 ms for each interheartbeat (RR)
interval. The raw data were later downloaded to a computer using the Polar Pro Trainer 5 Equine
Edition Software (Version 5.41.002, Polar Electro Europe BV, Fleurier Branch, Switzerland). Kubios
HRV software Version 2.0 (Biosignal Analysis and Medical Imaging Group, Department of Physics,
University of Kuopio, Finland) was utilized for correction and detrending of the raw data les from the
Polar Trainer 5 Equine Edition software les to prepare data for statistical analysis.
Behavioral measures
Thirty-two behaviors were identied for data collection (Table 2,Figure 2). The 32 behaviors were
separated into three groups based on previous research. These groups were agitated behaviors (15),
ambiguous behaviors (10), and relaxed behaviors (7). To assess the behaviors, each 1-min treatment
period was recorded on a digital camera (Canon, EOS 5D Mark II Full Frame CMOS sensor Full HD,
Canon, Tokyo, Japan) for subsequent analysis on a continuous observational basis.
Behaviors were analyzed either according to the total time they were performed or the number of
times they were performed, regardless of duration, during each 1-min treatment. The behaviors
recorded from the video were not evaluated blindly, as each treatment was visible to the observer. All of
the videos were analyzed by the same technician to yield a high degree of consistency.
Statistical analysis
To facilitate statistical analyses, horses were allocated to one of four breed groups: (a) standardbred,
(b) Icelandic, (c) ArabArab cross, or (d) other breeds (Table 1).
Heart rate parameters
HRV is typically nonstationary. Slow, linear, or more complex trends in the HRV signal may cause
distortion of HRV analysis (Berntson & Stowell, 1998; Melkonian, Korner, Meares, & Bahramali, 2012;
Table 2. Ethogram for behavioral observations.
Category Behavior Behavioral description
Agitated Clamped tail The duration of time the tail was clamped tight against rump
Ears back The duration of time the ears were backward, pinna facing back while
still visible (Figure 2a)
Ears at back The duration of time the ears were held back against the poll area
Head above The duration of time the entire head including the muzzle was above
Open mouth The duration of time the mouth was open; lips may be drawn back to
show teeth (Figure 2b)
Raised tail The duration of time the tail was held higher than natural position and
with higher muscle tone
Reeng on the reins The total number of time there was a distinct pull against the reins:
forward, downward, or in combination
Shake The total number of times a period of head shaking, side to side,
occurred: one shake was dened as the head moving center side
opposite sidecenter
Stepping backward The duration of time the horse was stepping backward: one step
or multiple steps
Stepping forward The duration of time the horse was stepping forward: either one step,
multiple steps, or pawing
Tail swishing The duration of time the tail was moving side to side (Figure 2c)
Total above and below (Total AB) The total number of times head was above or below withers
Total forward and back (FB) The total of all steps taken forward and backward
Total head movements The total number of head movements above and below the withers and
left and right of the midline
White sclera The duration of time of exposure of the white sclera around the eye
Relaxed Closed mouth The duration of time mouth was closed, no teeth showing
Elongation upper lip The duration of time of lengthening the upper lip (Figure 2d)
Head below The duration of time the entire head including the ears was below
withers in context of relaxation
Head level The duration of time the head was level with ears above the withers
and muzzle below the withers
Long snorting The total number of times there was a long drawn-out snorting/
sneezing (not to be confused with a short, sharp snort)
Neutral ears The duration of time when the pinna of both ears were facing outward
(Figure 2e)
Standing The duration of time standing stationary with no leg movement
Ambiguous Ears forward The duration of time with ears forward; pinna facing forward (Figure 2f)
Head left The duration of time the head, which may include the neck, was turned
to the left
Head right The duration of time the head, which may include the neck, was turned
to the right
Left-ear lateralization The duration of time the left-ear pinna was facing forward and right-ear
pinna was facing backward (Figure 2g)
Lickingchewing The total number of times licking the lips while performing a chewing
Right-ear lateralization Right-ear pinna facing forward and left-ear pinna facing backward (Figure 2h)
Total ear The total of all ear movements during each treatment
Total left and right (LR) The total number of times head turned left or right or both
Tongue out The duration of the tongue protruding straight out or on either side of
the mouth (Figure 2i)
Yawning The number of times the mouth was open to fullest extent, exposing `
incisors and tongue
Tarvainen, Ranta-aho, & Karjalainen, 2002). Previous studies have shown that HRV measurement is
reliable if the horse is stationary and if detrending is utilized to correct data (Munsters, Visser, van den
Broek, & Sloet van Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan, 2012; Parker, Goodwin, Eager, Redhead, & Marlin,
2010). Removal of trend components and correction of missed beat or extra beat artifacts may decrease
misleading HRV results; thus, detrending and data correction were utilized to counteract these
distortions (Marchant-Forde, Marlin, & Marchant-Forde, 2004). The detrending method based on the
smoothness priors approach was set at 500 ms (Tarvainen et al., 2002). Data correction in the Kubios
custom lter was set at 0.3 to identify R R intervals that differed by more than 30% as artifacts
(Schmidt, Biau, et al., 2010). HR parameters were analyzed using linear mixed models (LMMs) in
Tibico Spotre S þ(Spotre S þVersion 8.2.2010, Palo Alto, CA).
Ears back
(a) (b) (c)
(d) (e) (f)
(g) (h) (i)
Open mouth Tail swishing
Elongated upper lip Neutral ears Ears forward
Left-ear lateralization Right-ear lateralization Tongue out
Figure 2. Photos of 9 of the 32 behaviors in the ethogram.
The LMM contained the xed terms of sex, breed, and treatment and interactions between these.
There were no interaction effects found among sex, breed, and treatment; consequently, these were
dropped from the model. Nonsignicant terms were dropped sequentially from the model. Horse was
tted as a random effect. All assumptions of constant variance, independent residuals, and normally
distributed residuals for the LMM were met. Variables were considered to be associated signicantly
with an outcome if p,.05. The predicted values from the LMM analyses were assigned a rank based
on the Tukey family of pairwise differences with a family condence level of 5%.
Behavioral measures
The effects for behaviors were analyzed using a generalized linear mixed model (GLMM) in ASReml-R
(VSN International Ltd., Hemel Hempstead, UK). The behavioral variables of clamped tail, elongated
upper lip, shake, and yawn were binary in their occurrences and so were analyzed using a GLMM with a
binomial error distribution and a logit link function. No GLMMs used in this analysis showed any signs
of overdispersion. The remaining 28 variables were Poisson distributed and analyzed using models with
a Poisson error distribution and a log link function.
All models consisted of xed effects of sex, breed, and treatment, as well as a random effect of horse.
Specic behaviors were tted with a reduced xed-effect model, as there was insufcient information in
the data to t the full xed-effect model of sex, breed, and treatment. The reduced xed-effect model of
treatment was t on the following behaviors: stepping backward, open mouth, raised tail, tail swishing,
tongue out, and white sclera.
Heart rate parameters
A signicant difference between the random effect of horse was detected in mean HR, SDR R, RMSSD,
and pNN50 (
¼75.90, 11.55, 8.60, and 20.79, respectively). No treatment differences were detected
between any of the HR parameters (Table 3).
Signicant behaviors
Agitated behaviors
The duration of ears back showed a signicant difference (p¼.003) between treatments with ears in
this position longer during NP and C than WS. Horses opened their mouths for longer durations
during C compared with NP; this presentation was the only signicantly different (p¼.002)
presentation of open mouth. Horses presented reeng on the reins signicantly (p,.001) more
frequently during C and NP compared with WS. Stepping forward was executed signicantly more
Table 3. Predicted means and standard errors of measurement (SEMs) for three heart rate parameters for
three treatments: Control, neck patting, and wither scratching.
Parameter Mean ^SEM
Treatment Control Neck patting Wither scratching F
Mean HR (bpm) 48.18 ^13.31 48.32 ^13.90 47.78 ^13.90 0.67 .519
SDRR (ms) 50.25 ^17.35 57.73 ^20.12 57.31 ^20.12 1.02 .372
RMSSD (ms) 52.15 ^21.86 58.28 ^25.67 58.68 ^25.67 0.69 .504
pNN50 (%) 26.19 ^17.99 27.43 ^20.25 28.83 ^20.25 0.53 .597
Note. HR ¼heart rate; SDRR¼standard deviation of interheartbeat interval; RMSSD ¼root mean square
of successive interheartbeat interval difference; pNN50 ¼proportions of successive beats differing by 50 ms
divided by the total number of interheartbeat intervals.
Numerator and residual degrees of freedom for all Ftests are 2 and 34, respectively.
times during NP compared with C (p¼.012), while the effects of WS were not signicantly different
from C or NP. A signicant difference (p,.001) was detected in tail swishing, with longer durations
occurring during NP followed by C and nally WS. Total movements of head above the withers
and head below the withers (total AB) differed signicantly (p¼.002) between treatments with C
associated with more movement than NP or WS (Table 4).
Relaxed behaviors
A signicant difference (p,.001) was detected in head below withers, with horses more likely to
maintain this position for a longer duration during WS compared with C or NP. The neutral ear
position was displayed for a signicantly (p¼.009) longer duration in WS compared with NP, while it
was not signicantly different for C and WS (Table 4).
Ambiguous behaviors
Head right differed signicantly (p¼.001); during WS, the horses were more likely to turn their heads
to the right compared with during NP, but neither treatment was signicantly different from C. There
was a signicant difference (p,.001) between treatments of left-ear lateralization; during C, horses
held this ear position longer than during NP, followed by WS. The frequency of lickingchewing
behaviors was signicantly (p¼.007) higher during NP than WS, with neither different from
C. A signicant difference (p,.001) was detected between treatments of right-ear lateralization, with
WS producing this ear position for a longer duration than C, while NP was not signicantly different
from either WS or C. Tongue out was displayed for a signicantly (p,.001) longer duration during
WS compared with C and NP (Table 4).
Table 4. Back-transformed means for all behaviors with statistically signicant differences across three treatments.
Back-transformed mean (transformed means ^SE)
Behavior category Behavior Control Neck patting Wither scratching Fp
Agitated Ears back (s) 9.31
11.91 .003
(2.23 ^0.43) (2.23 ^0.43) (1.99 ^0.44)
Open mouth
(s) 0.49
12.21 .002
(0.72 ^0.59) (1.69 ^0.62) (1.32 ^0.60)
Reeng on the reins (c) 1.04
28.16 ,.001
(0.04 ^0.65) (0.04 ^0.65) (1.14 ^0.67)
Stepping forward (s) 0.28
8.91 .012
(1.27 ^0.56) (0.55 ^0.53) (1.21 ^0.56)
Tail swishing
(s) 0.34
18.32 ,.001
(1.09 ^0.48) (0.16 ^0.43) (3.65 ^1.08)
Total AB (c) 1.63
12.12 .002
(0.49 ^0.50) (0.09 ^0.50) (0.32 ^0.50)
Relaxed Head below (s) 0.48
24.62 ,.001
(0.74 ^0.66) (1.33 ^0.68) (0.15 ^0.65)
Neutral ears (s) 10.23
9.35 .009
(2.32 ^0.29) (2.29 ^0.29) (2.51 ^0.29)
Ambiguous Head right (s) 4.82
13.49 .001
(1.57 ^0.26) (1.32 ^0.26) (1.78 ^0.25)
Left-ear lateralization (s) 1.22
30.16 ,.001
(0.20 ^0.45) (0.48 ^0.47) (1.43 ^0.52)
Lickingchewing (c) 1.07
9.87 .007
(0.07 ^0.31) (0.36 ^0.30) (0.41 ^0.34)
Right-ear lateralization (s) 0.65
19.22 ,.001
(0.43 ^0.55) (0.09 ^0.54) (0.49 ^0.53)
Tongue out
(s) 0.01
19.69 ,.001
(5.03 ^1.26) (2.95 ^0.84) (1.67 ^0.78)
Note. Total AB ¼head above the withers and head below the withers. Transformed means and SEs of the predicted means presented
in parentheses; behaviors are either in seconds (s) or counts (c).
Behaviors with reduced model xed-effects treatment.
a, b, c
Different letters within a row denote a difference at the 0.05% familywise signicant level.
Nonsignicant behaviors
Agitated behaviors
No detectable difference was found between treatments in the behaviors of clamped tail (p¼.792),
head above (p¼.355), raised tail (p¼.176), shake (p¼.919), stepping backward (p¼.092), total
stepping forward and stepping backward (p¼.094), total head movements (p¼.237), and white sclera
(p¼.754). No instances of ears at back were observed during WS, NP, or C (Table 5).
Relaxed behaviors
No detectable effect was found between treatments during closed mouth (p¼.051), elongated upper lip
(p¼.992), head level (p¼.250), long snorting (p¼.530), or standing (p¼.763; Table 5).
Ambiguous behaviors
No signicant effect between treatments was detected in the behaviors of ears forward (p¼.666), head
left (p¼.670), total ear (p¼.191), total left and right (LR, p¼.193), or yawning (p¼1.000) (Table 5).
Breed effects
A signicant difference between breeds was detected in closed mouth (p¼.023), head level (p,.001),
lickingchewing (p¼.009), stepping forward (p¼.023), and total ear (p¼.009). Group 2 (Icelandic)
had a longer time of closed mouth compared with Group 1 (standardbred). Breed Groups 2 (Icelandic)
and 4 (other) tended to hold their heads level more often than Breed Group 1 (standardbred). Licking
and chewing were performed more often in Group 4 (other) compared with Group 1 (standardbred).
Breed Group 1 (standardbred) took more forward steps than Group 4 (other). More total ear
movement occurred in Breed Group 1 (standardbred) than in Groups 2 (Icelandic) and 3 (Arab Arab
cross). Due to low numbers of horses in all breed groups (Table 1), these ndings will not be discussed
further but may be a consideration in future studies.
Table 5. Nonsignicant difference between treatments of behaviors.
Mean ^SEM
Behavior category Behavior
Control Neck patting Wither scratching FP
Agitated Clamped tail
(s) 0.17 ^0.12 0 ^00^0 0.47 .792
Head above (s) 18.72 ^6.13 20.72 ^6.29 20.39 ^6.11 2.07 .355
Raised tail
(s) 2.44 ^2.44 3.50 ^2.26 2.83 ^2.60 3.48 .176
(c) 0.05 ^0.05 0.27 ^0.27 0 ^0 0.17 .919
Stepping backward
(s) 0.61 ^0.44 1.22 ^0.64 0.66 ^0.35 4.74 .092
Total FB (c) 1.05 ^0.45 1.78 ^0.76 1.05 ^0.52 4.72 .094
Total head movements (c) 7.5 ^1.96 6.56 ^1.02 6.05 ^1.25 2.88 .237
White sclera
(s) 0.22 ^0.15 0.11 ^0.47 0.22 ^0.22 0.56 .754
Relaxed Closed mouth (s) 57.72 ^1.04 58.72 ^0.78 53 ^3.4 6.00 .051
Elongated upper lip
(s) 0^00^0 4.17 ^2.99 0.51 .992
Head level (s) 37.17 ^6.01 38.11 ^6.25 35.83 ^5.99 2.77 .250
Long snorting (c) 0.5 ^0.14 0.33 ^0.11 0.28 ^0.11 1.27 .530
Standing (s) 58.39 ^0.69 56.72 ^1.49 58.28 ^0.89 1.00 .763
Ambiguous Ears forward (s) 17.61 ^4.25 18.67 ^3.91 18.78 ^4.03 0.81 .666
Head left (s) 1.83 ^1.10 1.89 ^0.74 2.22 ^1.12 0.80 .670
Total ear (c) 9.28 ^1.32 11.22 ^1.57 10.22 ^1.51 3.32 .191
Total LR
(c) 2.94 ^0.74 4 ^0.82 3.17 ^0.64 3.29 .193
(c) 0.06 ^0.06 0.17 ^0.17 0.17 ^0.17 ,0.00 1.000
Note. Total FB ¼total stepping forward and stepping backward. Means and SEMs from nontransformed raw data; behaviors are
either in seconds (s) or counts (c).
No incidents of ears at back were measured.
Data converted to binomial data.
Behaviors with reduced model xed-effects treatment.
Total LR ¼Total left and right.
The present study provides evidence to suggest that horses perform more relaxed and less agitated
behaviors when experiencing WS compared with NP or C. This nding suggests that WS is more
relaxing to horses and thus supports the current hypothesis. Contradictory to the hypothesis, no
differences in HR measures were detected across the treatments. Results from the three behavioral
groups and HR measures are discussed in more detail in the following paragraphs.
Agitated behaviors
Signicantly fewer agitated behaviors were seen when horses were receiving the WS treatment,
suggesting that this treatment was perceived by the horse as a positive interaction.
Ears back and reeng on the reins were seen more frequently when horses were experiencing either
C or NP treatments. A similar response was produced in the study by von Borstel et al. (2009) with
horses ridden in hyperexion of the neck where the chin is pulled coercively toward the chest (rollkur),
during which horses displayed ears back and head tossing more frequently when compared with horses
ridden in a natural neck position, indicating a negative experience during hyperexion.
Stepping forward occurred more frequently during NP compared with C, suggesting escape or
avoidance behavior (McGreevy & McLean, 2010). Tail swishing was also more common during NP.
This behavior has been used as a reliable indicator of agitated behavior in a variety of negative situations
in numerous studies (König von Borstel & Glisman, 2014; Munsters, Visser, van den Broek, & Sloet van
Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan, 2013; Vitale et al., 2013), thus suggesting a negative affective state in the
horses during NP.
Horses exhibited more movement of the head above the withers and head below (total AB) the
withers during the C treatment, suggesting behavior that is more restless. No hand contact was
administered during C treatments; consequently, horses may have experienced more opportunity to
explore the possibility of movement. Additionally, the horse may anticipate or prepare for movement
when under saddle; thus, standing with no stimulus may cause confusion or apprehension regarding
the riders next request.
Halting the horse for rest periods during training is also promoted as a way to encourage a horse to
relax (German National Equestrian Federation, 2013). When combined, the frequency of the behaviors
of tail swishing, ears back, reeng on the reins, and head movement above and below the withers (total
AB) suggest that NP and C treatments did not relax the horse as effectively from the stress of riding as
did WS. Within the limitations of this study, WS may be a useful tool to assist riders in helping their
horses to relax while standing. It is acknowledged that the horses were inexperienced with WS
compared with NP. It is not known whether there would be a change to the numbers and frequency of
negative behaviors if WS was commonly used when horses were under saddle. Further study to
elucidate this point would be required.
Relaxed behaviors
Two relaxed behaviors were more commonly observed during WS than the other treatments, further
supporting that WS was more relaxing to the horses. Horses held their heads lower than their withers
for longer durations during WS, suggesting a more relaxed state. A study comparing conventional
and sympathetic training methods identied longer durations of lowered head postures in the
sympathetic training method and signicantly lower HR (Visser, VanDierendonck, Ellis, Rijksen, &
Van Reenen, 2009).
WS induced a signicantly longer duration of the neutral ears position than NP, suggesting that WS
may contribute to a more relaxed behavioral response compared with NP. This result is similar to that
in a study by Harewood and McGowan (2005), showing neutral ear position being displayed more
often in horses housed on pasture compared with horses conned to a stall. Sheep exposed to a positive
situation of being fed grain displayed more neutral ear positions than when presented with wood pellets
(Reefmann et al., 2009).
Ambiguous behaviors
Ear position may suggest either left- or right-hemisphere processing of the brain in response to familiar
or unfamiliar stimuli (Basile et al., 2009). As the study by Basile et al. (2009) indicated, horses showed
right-ear preference for response to whinnies from neighbors and more left-ear response to whinnies
from strangers. As Reefmann et al. (2009) also suggested, left-ear lateralization may convey negative
valence in sheep. In the current study, both left and right lateralized ear positions may be useful
indicators of affect. Left-ear lateralization was more common during NP and C than during WS.
Conversely, right-ear lateralization was more common during WS than C. When interpreted in
conjunction with the agitated and relaxed behaviors, these ear positions may indicate that the horses
were experiencing a stronger negative affective state during NP and C than during WS. As these
differences observed align with the positive and negative behavior results, it is suggested that lateralized
ear posture may provide a useful measure of affective state in horses. It would be valuable to further
validate these ear postures in future studies.
In the current study, tongue out was more common when horses were experiencing WS. Tongue-out
behavior has been linked to undue bit pressure and the formation of an oral stereotypy in previous
studies (McGreevy & McLean, 2010). Stereotypic behaviors appear to develop when welfare is
chronically compromised and are unlikely to form during the short-term WS treatment (Mason &
Latham, 2004). More generally, tongue out does not appear to be a reliable indicator of an agitated state,
as few studies have indicated signicant displays of this behavior during negative situations (Visser
et al., 2009). Rather, this oral behavior may suggest that the horse is trying to mimic a mutual grooming
behavior, as horses have been seen displaying reciprocal allogrooming with conspecics and
heterospecics (Fraser, 2010; Waring, 2003).
Due to the positioning of the camera on the right side of the video area in the current study, a bias of
head right was anticipated for all treatments; unexpectedly, only WS and C showed a bias of head right.
Although left lateralization in turning the head has been shown in feral horses during vigilance and
reactivity (Austin & Rogers, 2012), head-left bias was not demonstrated in this study. NP was
administered between cervical vertebrae 3 to 6 on the right side of the horse and thus may have acted as
a barrier to the horses turning their heads to the right as anticipated.
Research indicates that licking chewing may be a sign of release of tension after a stressful
interaction, as horses display licking chewing more often after being chased for a period of time in a
round pen (Krueger, 2007). Other research, however, has suggested that licking chewing may not be a
reection of a state of arousal (Warren-Smith et al., 2007). Various Natural Horsemanship trainers
have described lickingchewing as a sign of submission or relaxation (Parelli, 1993; Roberts, 1996).
In contrast, the current study indicates that licking chewing was more likely to occur during NP than
WS, suggesting that horses were experiencing a stronger negative affective state during NP than during
WS when compared with other agitated and relaxed behaviors. Further research is needed to determine
if these behaviors indicate clear differences in the affective state of the horse.
General behavior
Of the 32 behaviors collected, 8 agitated, 5 ambiguous, and 5 relaxed behaviors did not differ
signicantly according to treatment. These behaviors may not clearly indicate the horses affective state
or may not be relevant indicators when horses are under saddle compared with those behaviors that
presented signicant differences between treatments. This nding may be attributed to the riders
inuence on the affective valence of the horse during the three treatments (König von Borstel, Euent,
Graf, König, & Gauly, 2011). Rider inuence on the affective state of the horse may have a greater effect
compared with when a rider handles the horse from the ground. Further analysis of these behaviors in
future studies would give a clearer indication of their usefulness for detecting affective states in horses
who are under saddle.
Further studies may benet from assessing the interobserver reliability of the behaviors measured in
this study. This is due to both the subtle nature of some of the behaviors and the commonly observed
limitation of observer bias in applied ethology research (Meagher, 2009; Tuyttens et al., 2014).
Heart rate parameters
Parameters of HR and HRV indexes showed no signicant differences between NP, WS, and C,
although signicant differences were detected in certain behaviors. This lack of results is in opposition
to previous studies that investigated grooming around the wither area in horses not under saddle (Feh
& De Mazières, 1993; Normando, Haverbeke, Meers, Ödbreg, & Ibañez Talegón, 2002). Both Feh and
De Mazières (1993) and Normando et al. (2002) used treatment lengths of 3 min of grooming around
the wither area and thus may have allowed time for physiological parameters to change; however,
behaviors were not studied in either experiment to allow for comparison. Regardless, HR for horses
during all three treatments was within a common reported range consistent with light work while under
saddle (Matsuura et al., 2010; Powell, Bennett-Wimbush, Peeples, & Duthie, 2008).
Other studies have also failed to identify signicant physiological differences yet produced
signicant behavioral differences (Munsters, de Gooijer, van den Broek, & van Oldruitenborgh-
Oosterbaan, 2013; Munsters et al., 2012; Warren-Smith et al., 2007). A large degree of HRV in
individual horses was exhibited in this study and may have contributed to a lack of signicant HRV
indexes, with previous work by von Borell et al. (2007) and Munsters et al. (2012) yielding similar
observations. Work by Vitale et al. (2013) suggested that restriction of free movement of horses may
cause a shift in the autonomic nervous system to higher sympathetic nervous system activity, further
contributing to this lack of difference.
Further studies may be warranted to determine the optimum length of time to induce a relaxed
physiological state while under saddle. A standardized protocol for data correction and detrending
methods for nonelectrocardiogram equipment may prove useful in data preparation for statistical
analysis and the ability to compare HRV research results in horses.
Behavioral results in the current study suggest that WS for a 1-min period may help to increase
relaxation when the horse is standing under saddle. Unexpectedly, horses displayed a similar number of
agitated behaviors during both NP and C treatments, suggesting that NP may be ineffective at relaxing
horses. These ndings may have implications for the management and comfort of horses while under
saddle. Further research in this area is suggested, with particular focus on whether these results are
replicated with different durations of treatments and with horses commonly exposed to WS.
Two behaviorsleft-ear lateralization and right-ear lateralizationwere identied as being
potentially useful indicators of the affective states of horses. Although these behaviors show promise,
further investigation is needed.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the technical assistance and lming provided by Tom Mitchell, P.Eng.
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... Both physiological and behavioural measures of horse response to human interactions were reported in 42.2% (n = 19) of studies; a further 31.1% (n = 14) exclusively used physiological measures and 26.6% (n = 12) used qualitative measures (i.e., behavioural observation). Only six papers described studies that included a control group or condition [38][39][40][41][42][43]. ...
... Approximately three quarters of the studies in the present review used physiological measurements to explore the effect of the HHIs. Heart rate (HR) data was obtained in 27 studies [37][38][39][40][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56][57][58]. Of these studies, 23 used the Polar HR monitor on horses alone, while 2 studies used the Polar HR monitor on horses and humans [38,45]. ...
... A total of 2 studies used a portable electrocardiogram (ECG) for collecting HR data [51,59] from horses. Of studies that collected HR data, 11 reported HR alone [37,38,40,42,44,45,49,50,[54][55][56]60] and 9 reported HR and heart rate variability (HRV) measures [39,43,47,48,52,53,[57][58][59][61][62][63][64]. ...
Full-text available
Human–horse interactions (HHIs) are diverse and prominent in the equine industry. Stakeholders have an invested interest in making sure that HHIs are humane. Assessment of equine welfare goes beyond physical health and includes assessment of the emotional state of the animal. HHIs can have a permanent effect on human–horse relationships, thereby influencing welfare. Therefore, an understanding of the horse’s affective state during HHIs is necessary. A scoping review was conducted to: (1) map current practices related to the measurement of HHIs; (2) explore the known effects of HHIs on horse behaviour and physiology; and (3) clarify the connection between HHIs and equine welfare. A total of 45 articles were included in this review. Studies that used both physiological and behavioural measures of equine response to human interactions accounted for 42% of the included studies. A further 31% exclusively used physiological measures and 27% used behavioural observation. Current evidence of equine welfare during HHIs is minimal and largely based on the absence of a negative affective state during imposed interactions. Broadening the scope of methods to evaluate a positive affective state and standardization of methodology to assess these states would improve the overall understanding of the horse’s welfare during HHIs.
... However, whether horses perceive human touch as social bonding remains debatable [31]. For example, in a training context, scratching the withers vigorously three times [28] or for up to one minute [32] may not be perceived by the horse as sufficiently positive or rewarding to enhance learning or facilitate bonding. One should also consider that there are individual differences in how tactile contact is experienced [33] or, equally, how food is more reinforcing for some individuals than others [31,34]. ...
... However, horses reinforced with both the release of lead tension and whip-tap pressure and an added scratch on the withers (NR + PRs) took longest to be led through the parkour by the unfamiliar handler. It was hypothesised that human-induced grooming may facilitate bonding due its characteristic of an affiliative action [3] and its beneficial effects on heart rate [30] as well as behavioural responses [32,62]. Still, this training approach may benefit cooperation in a handling context with a handler sharing a longer history with the horse than the limited amount of sessions applied in the current study. ...
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The study investigated equine responses to novelty and handling, aiming to reveal whether horse–human relationships reflect criteria of an attachment bond. Twelve adult Standardbreds were subjected to a fear-eliciting test (novel objects presented close to two humans) and a handling test (being led passing novel objects) to study attachment-related behaviours and ease of handling. The tests were performed both before (pre-test) and after (post-test) horses had been trained by the same female handler (10 sessions of 15 min). Horses were assigned to three groups of four, each of which underwent different operant conditioning protocols: negative reinforcement (NR; pressure, release of lead, and whip tap signals) or combined NR with either positive reinforcement using food (PRf) or wither scratching (PRs). Results showed that neither familiarity of the person nor training method had a significant impact on the horses’ behavioural responses in the post-tests. However, horses showed decreased heart rates between pre- and post-tests, which may indicate habituation, an effect of training per se, or that the presence of the familiar trainer served to calm the horses during the challenging situations. There were large individual variations among the horses’ responses and further studies are needed to increase our understanding of horse–human relationships.
... The expression of each behavior by one, but not both horses also suggests that the voluntary expression of each behavior within this affiliative partnership may be a function of how each horse desires to express affiliation with that specific partner and potentially others. While allogrooming has been shown to have physiological effects on heart rate variability in horses [34] which has been linked to coping strategies in pairs during and after stress [27], other behaviors, like nose touching, head over back, and the passing of the head and neck over or under the other's head or neck may simply be expressions of affection between two individual horses, with each horse having a preference for how to express his or her affection or affiliation without an evolutionary physiological advantage. Similar to other behaviors of "Nose Touch" and passing the head/neck over or under the other's head/neck, the expression of the behavior by one horse and not the partner or more frequently by one horse suggests an individualized approach and preference to exhibiting affiliative interactions. ...
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Recent research in equine pro-social behavior has shifted from agonistic and aggressive behaviors to a greater emphasis on affiliative interactions. With increased prioritization of physiological and psychological welfare in horses, studies have begun to focus not only on understanding stress behaviors, but also how to improve recognition of positive emotional affects in equine behaviors and the contexts in which they take place. Previous research in affiliative interactions focused on proximity and allogrooming as indicators of affiliative bonds between horses and can be used as a foundation for studying additional affiliative interactions that are exclusive between bonded pairs. This study is a preliminary investigation of behaviors exhibited between twelve bonded pairs of quarter horse mares of reproductive age living in large, socially stable herds. The goal of this study is to create a preliminary list of behaviors that occur exclusively between horse friends that indicate behavioral demonstrations of affection. Researchers used proximity indicators to identify bonded pairs and focused on coding behaviors that horses voluntarily expressed with their chosen friends and not with other mares. Researchers used video data to log and count behaviors within and between pairs to look for differences in individual preferences for affiliative interactions (whether presenting or receiving) and to determine any differences between how each pair exhibits affiliative interactions. Behaviors observed included initiation of allogrooming, touching body with nose, deliberately moving head over or under the head and neck of their partner, placing head over the back of partner, and moving to closer proximity. All twelve pairs demonstrated behaviors of initiating closer proximity indicating affiliative preference. Each pair also exhibited at least two other affiliative behaviors with only one pair partaking in allogrooming behavior. Individuals within pairs also differed in their preferred affiliative interactions, suggesting that individual horses have unique preferences for expressing and receiving affiliative behaviors which may differ from their partner's preferences. This study can serve as a preliminary foundation for examining how horses choose to demonstrate affection and can inform interpretations of psychological welfare in horses and provide new insights into horse-human interactions.
... The behaviour to be performed must meet the following criteria: it must be positive, simple, easy to perform and easy to fit into an existing routine [34]. The selected behaviour was to routinely scratch an equine, which mimics equine mutual grooming and could enhance the human-animal social bond [36]. Its advantages for equine welfare are that it has the potential to provide social stimulation and enrichment for the animal, as social isolation has been identified as a welfare concern [37]. ...
This paper explores the potential for interventions to develop pro-animal welfare habitual behaviours (PAWHBs) in people to improve the lives of animals. Human behavioural research indicates that opportunities exist to deliver lasting change through developing positive habitual behaviours. The routine nature of many equine care and management practices lends itself to habit formation and maintenance. This proof-of-concept paper aims to evaluate a theory-based intervention of developing and maintaining a PAWHB in people caring for equines. Qualitative research methods were used. A 30 day PAWHB intervention (PAWHBInt) of providing enrichment to an equine by scratching them in a consistent context linked to an existing routine behaviour was undertaken. Participants (n = 9) then engaged in semi-structured interviews that were analysed using thematic analysis, where the participants self-reported the outcomes they observed during the intervention. The study findings suggest that the PAWHBInt had a positive impact on human behaviour and habit formation. The research helps to address the dearth of evidence regarding the application of habit theory to equine welfare interventions and emphasised linking a desired new behaviour to an existing routine behaviour when developing PAWHBs. The research also highlights the role of mutual benefit for human and equine, and emotion in providing feedback and potential reward, supporting the link to the cue-routine-reward principle of habit theory.
Equine-Assisted Services (EAS) gained a foothold in the healthcare industry as a unique modality addressing the physical, cognitive, and psychological health issues for people across the lifespan. These services require a team approach, with volunteer support playing a prominent role in service delivery. Volunteers are a precious resource for EAS programs and step into a variety of support roles, including preparation and handling. However, little is known about the horse-volunteer relationship or factors that influence their working relationships. Therefore, the purpose of this web-based survey was to characterize the volunteer experience and explore factors that may impact volunteers’ ability to accurately identify equine behavior. A total of 240 volunteers from 25 Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship, International (PATH, Intl.) Premier Accredited Centers participated in this survey. The results of the correlational analyses and a general linear model suggested certain volunteer characteristics can be linked to accurate identification of horse behaviors. Horse leaders (p < 0.001) and volunteers who help with adaptive riding (p = 0.048) or therapeutic driving (p = 0.031) sessions more accurately recognized behaviors than those who held other roles. Volunteers who had any amount of horse experience prior to volunteering correctly identified more behaviors than those who came with none. A qualitative content analysis showed that volunteers felt most unprepared when a horse exhibited a behavior they were not trained to handle, and volunteers indicated their preparation to assist in EAS could be improved with more general training and education related to equine behavior.
The third edition of this book contains 15 illustrated chapters on the development and assessment of equine behaviour; sensory and neurologic faculties; the neurological underpinnings of behaviour; behavioural homeostasis, daily rhythms and advances in monitoring; ingestion, elimination and comfort; kinetic behaviour and athletic performance; spatial factors; equine transport; reproduction and breeding; mare and foal dynamics; foal function and welfare; development and social behaviour; undesirable behaviour and stress; humane control, training and husbandry and evacuation and rescue welfare.
The veterinary team frequently encounters foals as inpatients and during ambulatory duties, and thus play a key role in providing help and education to breeders. Having a good understanding of foal development from birth, weaning and beyond can have a significantly positive impact on the foal's future behaviour and quality of life. Equines behaving in a calm, safe manner is for the enjoyment of equestrian activities and is in the economic interests of those professionally involved. Successful management includes equipping the foal with a robust musculoskeletal system, healthy selective grazing behaviour, encouraging good social skills and safe behaviour around human handlers, all while promoting good quality of life for the young horse. This article is the first of two applying the research on foal behavioural development to good practice in the management and training of foals. This article covers the first 3 months of the foal's life, including socialisation and early handling and management of the foal, the second will cover the evidence surrounding weaning practices.
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Vision, hearing, olfaction, taste, and touch comprise the sensory modalities of most vertebrates. With these senses, the animal receives information about its environment. How this information is organized, interpreted, and experienced is known as perception. The study of the sensory abilities of animals and their implications for behavior is central not only to ethology but also to animal welfare. Sensory ability, perception, and behavior are closely linked. Horses and humans share the five most common sensory modalities, however, their ranges and capacities differ, so that horses are unlikely to perceive their surroundings in a similar manner to humans. Understanding equine perceptual abilities and their differences is important when horses and human interact, as these abilities are pivotal for the response of the horse to any changes in its surroundings. This review aims to provide an overview of the current knowledge on the sensory abilities of horses. The information is discussed within an evolutionary context and also includes a practical perspective, outlining potential ways to mitigate risks of injuries and enhance positive horse-human interactions. The equine sensory apparatus includes panoramic visual capacities with acuities similar to those of red-green color-blind humans as well as aural abilities that, in some respects exceed human hearing and a highly developed sense of smell, all of which influence how horses react in various situations. Equine sensitivity to touch has been studied surprisingly sparingly despite tactile stimulation being the major interface of horse training. We discuss the potential use of sensory enrichment/positive sensory stimulation to improve the welfare of horses in various situations e.g. using odors, touch or sound to enrich the environment or to appease horses. In addition, equine perception is affected by factors such as breed, individuality, age, and in some cases even color, emphasizing that different horses may need different types of management. Understanding the sensory abilities of horses is central to the emerging discipline of equitation science, which comprises the gamut of horse-human interactions. Therefore, sensory abilities continue to warrant scientific focus, with more research to enable us to understand different horses and their various needs.
I offer an interpretative recounting of my comments at the 2nd International Summit and Conference on Behaviour Analysis and Autism in Higher Education (Stockholm University, January, 2018). It is partially inspired by topics arising during the Summit, so is less straightforwardthan if expressly written on the same topics. I suggest that behaviour analysis has benefited greatly from its devotion to objectivity, and in turn benefitted many others through applied behaviour analysis. However, the field risks narrowness and isolation by devoting itself so greatly to autism and avoiding topics that do not easily fit its application-focused, contingency-based paradigm. I recount our history, give examples of sophisticated behavioural applications by others, and describe objective investigations of aspects of behaviour we do not emphasise. I argue that behaviour analysis would benefit by contacting certain non-behavioural areas, including requiring our students to take and attend non-behavioural courses and events.
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Preface This is a book for horse industry personnel, and indeed everyone who spends time with horses and ponies. It will help to ensure that humane, proficient horsemanship becomes more prevalent. Many equine scientists, veterinarians, ethologists and behaviour therapists share the view that the current lack of science in equitation contributes to the prevalence of undesirable equine behaviours with human-related causes. The number of horses worldwide is large and growing. As a consequence, there is an increasing number of horse-owners, many of whom are new to horse-keeping, with little knowledge of how to train their animal. This has led to a rise in the number of associated horse-welfare problems culminating in high wastage rates. Such problems reflect the uninformed practices, poor training techniques, inappropriate use of training equipment and, in some cases, inhumane handling of horses. In addition, horse-related injuries are a major public health concern, with most occurring while the rider is mounted. Death rates from horse-related injuries are in the vicinity of one death per million head of population and in terms of injuries, horse-riding is more dangerous than motorcycle sports and equally as dangerous as rugby. Improving riders’ understanding of horse behaviour and subsequently reducing the number of ‘conflict behaviours’ horses develop will reduce the prevalence of such accidents. Furthermore, the increasing profile of ‘Natural Horsemanship’ and ‘horse whisperers’ has made horse industry personnel question some traditional practices, prompted them to consider how novel techniques operate and to question how the language relating to horse-training and riding relates to what is known through psychology, ethology and veterinary science. This book helps them in all of these three endeavours. The title introduces ‘Equitation Science’, an emerging discipline that aims to provide an understanding of the behavioural mechanisms that underpin the human–horse interface. Equitation science is the measurement and interpretation of interactions between horses and their riders. Our book describes the first equine-training system that is totally based on what is referred to in the behavioural sciences as ‘learning theory’. This system explains training at all levels in a refreshingly simple, logical and illuminating way. The objective measurement of variables is important, so this book explains from first principles traditional and novel techniques to reveal what works, what does not, and why. Most importantly, it also explores the welfare consequences of training and competing with horses under different disciplines. In contrast to the latest generation of horse whisperers, advocates of Equitation Science are not commercial purveyors of techniques, training certificates or merchandise. Equitation science has an extremely promising future since it is more humble, global, accessible and accurate, and less denominational, commercial, open to interpretation and misinterpretation than any formulaic approach. It has the potential to be the most enduring of all approaches used to train the horse. The authors offer unique perspectives by being able to combine tertiary qualifications in veterinary medicine (PM), ethology (PM), zoology (AM), comparative cognition (AM) and animal welfare (PM) with significant experience in animal-training (AM & PM), elite equestrian competition (AM), clinical behaviour modification (AM & PM) and coaching (AM & PM). Acknowledgements We wish to acknowledge the tremendous support we have received over many years from our colleagues in academe and the horse industry. Early attempts to apply learning theory to horse training were made by AM (Horse Training the McLean Way) and PM (Why does my horse...?). Since then, the emerging discipline of Equitation Science developed rapidly following discussions between Debbie Goodwin, Natalie Waran and PM following the Havemeyer Foundation Workshop on Horse Behavior and Welfare in Iceland in 2002. The first workshop on Equitation Science was held at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh in 2004 where AM gave practical demonstrations of the application of ‘learning theory’ in-hand and under-saddle. As a result of the interest of approximately 30 equine scientists at this workshop, it was decided to launch the first symposium in Equitation Science at the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre the following year. Further symposia followed in Milan (2006), Michigan (2007) and Dublin (2008). In addition to the above-named colleagues, those who made notable contributions to the eventual establishment of the current International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) include Machteld van Dierendonck, Carol Hall, Elke Hartman, Michela Minero, Jack Murphy, Hayley Randle, Camie Heleski, Amanda Warren-Smith, Kathalijne Visser and Lisa Beard. The formation of the ISES is a great step forward for horses and is a direct result of the growing worldwide interest in this area by equine scientists and equestrian professionals alike. The equestrians that we wish to acknowledge include Portland Jones, Manuela McLean, Jody Hartstone, Anjanette Harten, Warwick McLean and Niki Stuart For their help with the current text, we wish to thank Bob Boakes, Hilary Clayton, Debbie Goodwin, Carol Hall, Camie Heleski, Machteld van Dierendonck, Katherine Houpt, Kathalijne Visser, Jan Ladewig, Leo Jeffcott, Daniel Mills, Jack Murphy, Niki Stuart, Julie Taylor, Natalie Waran, Amanda Warren-Smith and Mari Zetterquist-Blokhuis; all of whom reviewed at least one chapter each. Lynn Cole, Portland Jones, Lesley Hawson and Catherine Oddie gave invaluable advice on each chapter. Further editorial assistance was provided by Joseph Le Doux, Pierre Malou, Nicola Drabble, Laura Payne and Danielle McBain. The tables that appear in Chapter 3 are drawn from a paper co-written with Catherine Oddie and Francis Burton. Photographs were supplied by Manuela McLean, Andrew McLean, Elke Hartmann, Julie, Wilson, Julie Taylor, Christine Hauschildt, Amelia Martin, Minna Tallberg, Philippe Karl, Sandy Hannan, Amanda Warren-Smith, Greg Jones, Pierre Malou, Sandra Jorgensen, Christine Hauschildt, David Faloun, Georgia Bruce, Roz Neave, Susan Kjaergard, Portland Jones, Carol Willcocks, Becky Whay and Eric Palmer. The book is not a manual and is not intended to endorse any particular gear or technique. This may explain the representations of horses on the cover. While we have made every possible effort to contact the rights owners of other images used in this book, there have been cases where it has not been possible to trace the relevant parties. If you believe that you are the owner of an image or images used in this book and we have not contacted you prior to publication, please contact us via the publisher.
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The assessment of pain is critical for the welfare of horses, in particular when pain is induced by common management procedures such as castration. Existing pain assessment methods have several limitations, which reduce the applicability in everyday life. Assessment of facial expression changes, as a novel means of pain scoring, may offer numerous advantages and overcome some of these limitations. The objective of this study was to develop and validate a standardised pain scale based on facial expressions in horses (Horse Grimace Scale [HGS]). Forty stallions were assigned to one of two treatments and all animals underwent routine surgical castration under general anaesthesia. Group A (n = 19) received a single injection of Flunixin immediately before anaesthesia. Group B (n = 21) received Flunixin immediately before anaesthesia and then again, as an oral administration, six hours after the surgery. In addition, six horses were used as anaesthesia controls (C). These animals underwent non-invasive, indolent procedures, received the same treatment as group A, but did not undergo surgical procedures that could be accompanied with surgical pain. Changes in behaviour, composite pain scale (CPS) scores and horse grimace scale (HGS) scores were assessed before and 8-hours post-procedure. Only horses undergoing castration (Groups A and B) showed significantly greater HGS and CPS scores at 8-hours post compared to pre operatively. Further, maintenance behaviours such as explorative behaviour and alertness were also reduced. No difference was observed between the two analgesic treatment groups. The Horse Grimace Scale potentially offers an effective and reliable method of assessing pain following routine castration in horses. However, auxiliary studies are required to evaluate different painful conditions and analgesic schedules.
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Rideability, i.e. the ease and comfort with which a horse can be ridden, is considered to be one of the most important traits in riding horses. However, at present rideability is evaluated rather subjectively in breeding horse performance tests. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the role horse behaviour as well as degree and quality of rein tension might play in judges' evaluation of horses' rideability. Mares (n=33) and stallions (n=13) from two different mare- and one stallion-testing station were observed twice during their performance test dressage training. During these rides, rein tension was measured continuously, and frequency of behaviour patterns such as head-tossing, tail swishing, and snorting was recorded. Rein tension parameters showed reasonable repeatabilities within horse-rider pairs (e.g. mean rein tension: r(2)=0.61 ± 0.11; variance of rein tension: r(2)=0.52 ± 0.14). Regression analysis revealed that a larger proportion of variance in rideability scores could be explained by maximum (17%), mean (16%) and variance (15%) of rein tension compared to horses' or riders' behavioural parameters (tail-swishing: 5% and rider's use of hands: 5%, respectively). According to mixed model analysis, rideability scores dropped (all P
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Determinants of yawning are still uncertain. As yawning seems to be triggered by stress and emotional contexts, we investigated specific correlates of yawning and stereotypic behaviours in horses. Study 1 investigated correlations in time between yawning and stereotypic behaviour in stereotypic horses from the same facility; study 2, involving riding school horses, investigated the cooccurrence of yawning and stereotypic behaviour at the individual level and in response to environmental factors (feeding time). Results showed that (1) stereotypic horses yawned more than the nonstereotypic horses, (2) yawning increased at the same time periods as stereotypic behaviours did, and (3) yawning frequency was positively correlated with stereotypic behaviour frequencies (study1). Different hypotheses are discussed: direct/indirect causal relationship and other factors susceptible to trigger both yawning and stereotypies. This study, underlining for the first time a cooccurrence of yawning and stereotypic behaviour, opens a promising line of investigation of this puzzling behaviour.
Equine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists is the quintessential reference for all who really want to know what makes horses tick. Research in horse behavior has made great strides in recent years. This book examines the truth behind modern trends and ancient traditions. Full of insight, it rounds up the latest findings of practitioners and researchers from all over the world, drawing on both cutting-edge research and best practice. With more than 1,000 references, the book explores equine behavior from first principles, by considering the behavior of free-ranging horses and focusing on ways in which management and training influence the responses of their domestic counterparts. Equine physicians, trainers, handlers and owners all need to be students of equine behavior, because the first sign of a problem is often a change in behavior. So, whether you own, ride, lead, groom, feed or heal horses, what you observe is vital to your understanding. Behavioral problems in the stable and under saddle are a grave concern for equine veterinarians worldwide, because they can lead to poor performance, welfare issues, abuse and, ultimately, wastage. Traditionally, veterinarians gave priority to the physical health of their equine patients. This book is a unique attempt to demonstrate the way science can throw light on how and why problems and unwelcome behaviors arise. It also offers ways to bring about change for the better. Beautifully illustrated with photographs and line diagrams, Equine Behavior: A guide for veterinarians and equine scientists is an essential resource for practising veterinarians, students and enthusiasts with a specific interest in horses, ponies, and donkeys. Professional trainers and handlers, equine scientists and behavior therapists will also find its contents invaluable.
Most observers in behaviour studies are aware of relevant information about the animals being observed. We investigated whether observer expectations influence subjective scoring methods during a class practicum. Veterinary students were trained in recording negative and positive interactions between pigs, in scoring the degree of panting in cattle and in applying qualitative behaviour assessment (QBA) using a fixed set of terms for assessing hens' behaviour. The students applied these methods in three trials in which they were shown duplicated video recordings of the same animals: the original and a slightly modified version (to prevent recognition at second viewing). When scoring the duplicated recordings they were told either correct or false information about the conditions in which the animals had been filmed. The false information reflected plausible study scenarios in ethology and was used to create expectations about the outcome. As in reality the students scored the identical behaviour twice, the difference in the scores for the original and modified recordings reflects expectation bias due to providing different contextual information. In all trials there was evidence of expectation bias: students scored the ratio of positive to negative interactions higher when told that the observed pigs had been selected for high social breeding value, they scored cattle panting higher when told that the ambient temperature was 5 °C higher than in reality, and in the QBA they indicated more positive and fewer negative emotions when told that the hens were from an organic instead of a conventional farm. The magnitude of the bias in the QBA trial was related to the opinion of the students about hen welfare in organic versus conventional farms. Although veterinary students may not be representative of practising ethologists, these findings do indicate that observer bias could influence subjective scores of animal behaviour and welfare.
To date, most studies on animal emotions have focused on the assessment of negative emotional states, and there is a lack of approaches to characterising positive emotional states. The aim of this investigation was to measure differences in ear and tail postures in sheep exposed to situations likely to induce states of negative, intermediate and positive emotional valence.Nineteen female sheep were observed in emotion-eliciting situations in two experiments. In the home-pen experiment, ear and tail postures were observed during separation from group members (negative situation), during rumination (intermediate), and while feeding on fresh hay (positive situation). In the fodder experiment, individual sheep were conditioned to anticipate the delivery of standard feed. Once familiar with this experimental condition, they were offered either the standard feed (control treatment), unpalatable wooden pellets (negative treatment), or energetically enriched feed mixed with preferred feed items (positive treatment). Ear and tail postures of sheep were recorded during the final 6 min preceding feed delivery (anticipation phase) and for 6 min during feed delivery (feeding phase). Data were analysed using linear mixed-effect models.In the home-pen experiment, sheep separated from group members showed a high number of ear-posture changes and a high proportion of forward ears compared to hay feeding, during which ears were mainly passive. In the fodder experiment, the total number of ear-posture changes was generally high during the anticipation phases, slightly lower during delivery of the wooden pellets, and clearly reduced during the delivery of standard and enriched feed. A higher proportion of passive ear postures occurred when standard feed and enriched feed were offered compared to the delivery of wooden pellets. The proportion of asymmetric and axial ear postures was influenced by the sequence of testing of the different feeding treatments, with a higher proportion of asymmetric and a lower proportion of axial ear postures during the first exposure to either the wooden pellets or the enriched feed. A high proportion of the sheep's tails being raised was only observed during separation from group members.In both experiments, frequent ear-posture changes were most clearly associated with situations inducing negative states, and a high proportion of passive ear postures with situations likely to induce positive emotional states. Unfamiliarity influenced emotional reactions towards a more negative appraisal. A raised tail only appears to occur in specific situations, and was not useful for distinguishing emotional valence. Apart from the need for further validation, observations of ear-posture changes seem to be a promising approach for assessing emotional reactions in sheep.