Last December I and my colleagues published a paper describing one of our research studies, in the peer-reviewed journal Animals. As the Equine Behaviour and Training Association (EBTA) we investigated how horse owners, riders and trainers recognise signs of equine stress.
We found that equestrians often fail to recognise the behavioural signs that horses display when they experience pain and fear. Consequently, the distress remains unresolved, reducing the horse’s welfare and having potential safety implications for the handler.
Negative affect is characterised by feelings of psychological distress, such as nervousness, anxiety and fear.
We asked a number of equine behaviour experts to assess videos showing various types of horse riding and training and to comment on the affective states of the horses in the videos. Then we asked members of the horse-owning or horse-riding public to view the videos and answer a set of questions.
Our respondents successfully recognised behaviour consistent with negative affect in some instances; however videos featuring natural horsemanship and bridle-less riding were often wrongly interpreted to be positive experiences for the horses.
Despite recognising behaviours indicative of distress in some videos, a minority of respondents nevertheless said they would have been happy for their own horse to be treated in a similar way to the distressed horse, even when they themselves felt that that the horse in the video was undergoing a negative, stressful experience.
Participant age and experience had little effect on the results; however responses by people who had selected “clicker training” as their preferred equestrian activity were more closely aligned with those of the equine behaviourist experts, suggesting that clicker trainers might be more accurate in their recognition of equine distress than other members of the equestrian community.
Our hope is that this study will be useful in informing outreach activity for education and welfare organisations, through improved recognition, and subsequent reduction, of equine distress.
You can read an article about the study in the online magazine Horses and People, in the link below. It includes a link to the full article in the Animals journal.
Horses and People article
The Equine Behaviour and Training Association is UK based and operates internationally. It aims to:
Improve the knowledge and understanding of the physical and psychological well-being of equines
Promote awareness of human behaviour and its impact on equine behaviour
Bridge the gap between academic research and practical application
Protect equine welfare whilst maintaining safety and achieving goals
EBTA members include clinical equine behaviourists, behaviour analysts, horse owners and academics who have made a commitment to understanding equine behaviour and working with horses according to the principles of behavioural science and equine welfare science. We acknowledge our responsibility to the horse as a domestic species taken out of their natural environment and required to cope with a variety of ridden and management demands.
EBTA provides support to anyone wanting to learn more about equine behaviour, we conduct research projects in areas where we feel there is insufficient overlap between academia and the “typical horse-owner” and we liaise with media organisations in order to help improve communication about equine behaviour.
The EBTA website is free to use and includes a large database of information about equine behaviour, from introductory to professional level. New material is added regularly and you can receive updates via our newsletter or Facebook page.