Article

Horse’s emotional state and rider safety during grooming practices, a field study

Authors:
  • French Horse and Riding Institute
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Abstract

Care given to animals, such as grooming for horses, can be a source of well-being when carried out correctly. However, it can cause discomfort when badly perceived and lead to potentially dangerous reactions. This study aimed to describe how grooming is conducted in the field, in terms of the horse's emotional state and also rider safety. Our observations carried out on 69 horses in riding centres and sports stables show that grooming produces more negative than positive emotions. Indeed, only 5% of horses showed mutual grooming, approach or relaxed behaviour, whereas four times more horses expressed avoidance and threatening behaviours. These results have consequences for handler safety. Regarding threatening behaviours, nine incidents (a hoof or teeth passing within 10 cm of the rider's body or head) were recorded. Concerning riders, 100% behaved in a risky way at least once: passing behind or under the head of the horse without keeping it in the field of view (97%) or squatting by its feet (42%). On average, riders carried out 6.7 + 0.49 dangerous behaviours per session, and sometimes up to 19. Moreover, only 7% of them wore a hard hat when preparing their horse, while the risk of concussion is just as high on foot as in the saddle. Finally, 88% of them showed posture which was risky for their backs when picking out hooves. Surprisingly, riders’ experience had no effect on the parameters recorded. In particular, horse professionals were just as exposed to risky situations, did not protect their backs, and their horses showed similar levels of defensive behaviours or signs of discomfort as the less experienced riders (P > 0.05). This result is undoubtedly linked to the lack of importance granted to this practice and little teaching about reading horse signals indicating comfort and discomfort. We hope that our results will make riders aware of how important grooming is for the horse's welfare as much as for their own health and safety.

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... In the developed world, they are kept mainly as companion, leisure, or sporting animals rather than working animals and are handled by people with a diversity, and often paucity, of relevant skills [3]. Veterinary and husbandry interventions as simple as examinations or grooming can bring risks to human safety [4]. At the same time, traditional and contemporary training and management practices regularly compromise horse welfare across each of the Five Domains [5]. ...
... At the same time, traditional and contemporary training and management practices regularly compromise horse welfare across each of the Five Domains [5]. Shortfalls in horse welfare, and associated behavioural manifestations, can go unnoticed and lead to poor welfare outcomes for horses and increase hazards for riders, who are often unaware of the horse's emotional state [4,6]. ...
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... If obedience is due to oppression applied by the human, and not based on a reciprocal trust, the horse may feel insecure, and develop some instinctual behaviors such as escaping, resisting and fighting (Blanchard, 2005). Therefore, simple veterinary and animal husbandry interventions such as routine examinations and grooming can pose risks for human safety (Lansade et al. 2019). On the other hand, in all riding disciplines, appropriate methods improve the learning skills of horses, and decrease their undesired behaviors (McGreevy and McLean 2007). ...
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Introduction: Horse-related injuries account for one quarter of all paediatric sports fatalities. It is not known whether the pattern of injury spectrum and severity differ between children injured whilst mounted, compared with those injured unmounted around horses. We aimed to identify any distinctions between the demographic features, spectrum and severity of injuries for mounted versus unmounted patients. Patients and methods: Trauma registry data were reviewed for 505 consecutive paediatric patients (aged<16years) admitted to a large paediatric trauma centre with horse-related injuries over a 16-year period. Patients were classified into mounted and unmounted groups, and demographics, injury spectrum, injury severity, and helmet usage compared using odds ratios and Wilcoxon rank-sum tests. Results: More patients (56%) were injured in a private setting than in a sporting or supervised context (23%). Overall, head injuries were the most common horse-related injury. Mounted patients comprised 77% of the cohort. Mounted patients were more likely to sustain upper limb fractures or spinal injuries, and more likely to wear helmets. Unmounted were more likely to be younger males, and more likely to sustain facial or abdominal injuries. Strikingly, unmounted children had significantly more severe and critical Injury Severity Scores (OR 2.6; 95% CI 1.5, 4.6) and longer hospital stay (2.0days vs 1.1days; p<0.001). Unmounted patients were twice as likely to require intensive care or surgery, and eight times more likely to sustain a severe head injury. Conclusions: Horse-related injuries in children are serious. Unmounted patients are distinct from mounted patients in terms of gender, age, likelihood of personal protective equipment use, severity of injuries, and requirement for intensive or invasive care. This study highlights the importance of vigilance and other safety behaviours when unmounted and around horses, and proposes specific targets for future injury prevention campaigns, both in setting of organised and private equestrian activity.
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Play is commonly used to assess affective states in both humans and non-human animals. Play appears to be most common when animals are well-fed and not under any direct threats to fitness. Could play and playfulness therefore indicate pre-existing positive emotions, and thence optimal animal welfare? We examine this question by surveying the internal and external conditions that promote or suppress play in a variety of species, starting with humans. We find that negative affective states and poor welfare usually do suppress play (although there are notable exceptions where the opposite occurs). Furthermore, research in children suggests that beyond the frequency or total duration of play, poor welfare may additionally be reflected in qualitative aspects of this heterogeneous behaviour (e.g. display of solitary over social play; and 'fragmentation' of play bouts) that are too often overlooked in animals. There are surprisingly few studies of play in subjects with pre-existing optimal welfare or in unambiguously highly positive affective states, making it currently impossible to determine whether play can distinguish optimal or good welfare from merely neutral welfare. This therefore represents an important and exciting area for future research.
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Approach-avoidance theories describe the major systems that motivate behaviours in reaction to classes of appetitive (rewarding) and aversive (punishing) stimuli. The literature points to two major avoidance systems, one related to pure avoidance and escape of aversive stimuli, and a second, to behavioural inhibition induced by the detection of goal conflict (in addition, there is evidence for nonaffective behavioural constraint). A third major system, responsible for approach behaviour, is reactive to appetitive stimuli, and has several subcomponents. A number of combined effects of these systems are outlined. Finally, the hierarchical nature of behavioural control is delineated, including the role played by conscious awareness in behavioural inhibition.
Article
The purpose of this study is to determine whether discrepant patterns of horse-related trauma exist in mounted vs. unmounted equestrians from a single Level I trauma center to guide awareness of injury prevention. Retrospective data were collected from the University of Kentucky Trauma Registry for patients admitted with horse-related injuries between January 2003 and December 2007 (n=284). Injuries incurred while mounted were compared with those incurred while unmounted. Of 284 patients, 145 (51%) subjects were male with an average age of 37.2 years (S.D. 17.2). Most injuries occurred due to falling off while riding (54%) or kick (22%), resulting in extremity fracture (33%) and head injury (27%). Mounted equestrians more commonly incurred injury to the chest and lower extremity while unmounted equestrians incurred injury to the face and abdomen. Head trauma frequency was equal between mounted and unmounted equestrians. There were 3 deaths, 2 of which were due to severe head injury from a kick. Helmet use was confirmed in only 12 cases (6%). This evaluation of trauma in mounted vs. unmounted equestrians indicates different patterns of injury, contributing to the growing body of literature in this field. We find interaction with horses to be dangerous to both mounted and unmounted equestrians. Intervention with increased safety equipment practice should include helmet usage while on and off the horse.
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The ability of horses to learn and remember new tasks is fundamentally important for their use by humans. Fearfulness may, however, interfere with learning, because stimuli in the environment can overshadow signals from the rider or handler. In addition, prolonged high levels of stress hormones can affect neurons within the hippocampus; a brain region central to learning and memory. In a series of experiments, we aimed to investigate the link between performance in two learning tests, the baseline level of stress hormones, measured as faecal cortisol metabolites (FCM), fearfulness, and social rank. Twenty-five geldings (2 or 3 years old) pastured in one group were included in the study. The learning tests were performed by professional trainers and included a number of predefined stages during which the horses were gradually trained to perform exercises, using either negative (NR) or positive reinforcement (PR). Each of the learning tests lasted 3 days; 7 min/horse/day. The NR test was repeated in a novel environment. Performance, measured as final stage in the training programme, and heart rate (HR) were recorded. Faeces were collected on four separate days where the horses had been undisturbed at pasture for 48 h. Social rank was determined through observations of social interactions during feeding. The fear test was a novel object test during which behaviour and HR were recorded.
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Many questions about animal welfare involve the affective states of animals (pain, fear, distress) and people look to science to clarify these issues as a basis for practices, policies and standards. However, the science of the mid twentieth century tended to be silent on matters of animal affect for both philosophical and methodological reasons. Philosophically, under the influence of Positivism many scientists considered that the affective states of animals fall outside the scope of science. Certain methodological features of the research also favoured explanations that did not involve affect. The features included the tendency to rely on abstract, quantitative measures rather than description, to use controlled experiments more than naturalistic observation, and to focus on measures of central tendency (means, medians) rather than individual differences. Much animal welfare science has dropped the philosophical stance but retained most of the methodological features. Thus, animal welfare scientists attempt to understand affect through quantitative measures, often in controlled experiments, with relatively little focus on individual differences. An alternative paradigm, seen in the work of Jane Goodall, Barbara Smuts and others, made a fundamental departure from these methodological features. These scientists collected qualitative, narrative data as well as quantitative; they described complex behaviour rather than measuring selected abstract features; and they attempted to understand the unique features of individual animals rather than averages for a species or type. Data produced by this alternative paradigm almost require scientists to involve affect in order to achieve plausible explanations of behaviour. Suitably developed, the alternative paradigm may provide a useful tool for fundamental studies relevant to animal affect and animal welfare.
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From observations of intra-specific social grooming in cattle and studies on human stroking in other species, we hypothesised that cows’ reactions to human stroking differ depending on the body regions being stroked. Moreover, we tested, whether cows ‘reactions to stroking change with the animals’ experience of stroking.Sixty dairy cows were stroked in three different body regions, i.e. the withers, W, neck ventral, NV (both licked often in social grooming) and the lateral chest, LC (licked rarely), in a balanced order during 10-min sessions. Behavioural reactions and heart rate during stroking as well as reactions to the human just after stroking were recorded. Two test sessions were carried out with 3 weeks of treatment in-between. During this period, the cows were randomly allocated to four treatment groups: three groups received 5min of daily stroking in either W, NV or LC and the last one (control group) was exposed to simple human presence.During stroking W and NV, cows showed longer neck stretching and ear hanging than during stroking LC (P
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It is commonly suggested that the principal function of allogrooming is to reduce social tension between group members, but direct evidence of the physiological consequences of grooming at particular sites is lacking. By filming allogrooming sequences in a herd of Camargue horses, Equus caballus , their preferred grooming site, which lies on the lower neck, was identified. Experimental imitation of grooming at this site reduced the heart rate of the recipient while grooming on a non-preferred area did not, in both adults and foals. This preferred site lies close to a major ganglion of the autonomic nervous system.
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Social relationships are important in social species. These relationships, based on repeated interactions, define each partner's expectations during the following encounters. The creation of a relationship implies high social cognitive abilities which require that each partner is able to associate the positive or negative content of an interaction with a specific partner and to recall this association. In this study, we tested the effects of repeated interactions on the memory kept by 23 young horses about humans, after 6 and 8 months of separation. The association of a reward with a learning task in an interactional context induced positive reactions towards humans during training. It also increased contact and interest, not only just after training, but also several months later, despite no further interaction with humans. In addition, this ‘positive memory’ of humans extended to novel persons. Overall, positive reinforcement enhanced learning and memorization of the task itself. These findings suggest remarkable social cognitive abilities that can be transposed from intraspecific to interspecific social contexts.
Article
The assessment of emotional states in animals, particularly positive ones, remains a scientific challenge. We investigated differences in behavioural and physiological measures recorded in sheep, Ovis orientalis aries, during situations likely to coincide with negative, intermediate and positive emotional valence. Reactions of 15 sheep were observed during separation from group members (negative valence), standing in the feeding area (intermediate valence) and being voluntarily groomed by a familiar human (positive valence). Several ear postures, relative eye aperture, cardiorespiration and body surface humidity and temperature were recorded continuously for up to 4 min in each experimental situation. Data were analysed using linear mixed-effects models, and correlations were calculated between ethophysiological measurements. Groomed sheep showed few ear posture changes, low proportions of forward ear postures, low relative eye aperture and a low variance in body surface humidity. The values of most of these measures increased linearly towards standing in the feeding area and further towards separation from group members. Conversely, groomed sheep showed high proportions of axial ear postures, long mean interheartbeat intervals and high heart rate variability, with values declining linearly towards the negative situation. In addition, behavioural and cardiac measurements correlated moderately to strongly. In conclusion, emotional valence in sheep could be differentiated by both behavioural and physiological measures. Based on our data, it may be possible to replace some physiological measures with observations of ear postures. The findings provide valuable insights for assessing both negative and positive emotion in animals, which can help to promote positive experiences in captive housing conditions.
Article
The increasing incidence of horse-riding accidents, which are often severe in nature, prompted a pilot study of a questionnaire designed to elucidate the cause of such accidents. It was hoped that, on a larger scale, the information gleaned would highlight possible preventative measures which might improve the safety of an important recreational pursuit enjoyed by young and old from many walks of life. A retrospective study of riders sustaining serious spinal injuries admitted to Stoke Mandeville Hospital was compared with riders sustaining minor but significant injuries as the accidents came to the attention of the authors. The detailed analysis paid particular attention to the setting and to the experience and task of horse and rider. It was found that 70% of the 20 accidents could be thought attributable to the behaviour of the horse at the time, and seven of these were in the spinal injuries group. Rider error was a significant contribution in seven cases, and in two instances the rider was under instruction at the time. There was also inadequate experience of the rider in seven cases, of which five were thought to show inadequate supervision. The limited number of cases studied precludes significant observations, but, as the majority of accidents seemed preventable, a larger study has been initiated in collaboration with the British Horse Society.
Prevalence of back pain and its risk factors in professional horse riders
  • Biau
Horse riding accidents involving children
  • Giebel