Long-Term Human-Horse Relationships Ease Equine Anxiety In Novel Situations - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Long-Term Human-Horse Relationships Ease Equine Anxiety In Novel Situations

Horses that have a long-term relationship with an owner or caretaker respond to novel situations with less anxiety. A horse that has had several owners, or one that has multiple riders or who has only been with an owner for a short time, may respond with more wariness.

Dr. Resea Océane Liehrmann, from the University of Turku in Finland, and a team of scientists created a study to test human-horse interactions when exposed to new situations.

Horses have developed impressive social skills over the thousand of years that they have been in close contact with humans. They are good at understanding human demands and are also receptive to human emotions. 

Humans that are in contact with horses for several hours a day can impact their physiology, welfare, and behavior. Because of this, the scientists say that it's important to understand what factors can influence equine emotions during human interaction and what shapes the horse-human relationship, particularly in unique situations.  

For the study, 76 owned riding horses in the Turku area performed two behavioral tests related to novel objects. The horse's reactions were observed and analyzed. In the first test, the horse was led onto two surfaces, once by their owner and once by an unfamiliar handler. 

The second test had a familiar and unfamiliar handler present the horses with a fluffy, stuffed toy. The horse had one minute to interact with the toy, then the person approached the horse and tried to touch its neck with the toy. 

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The team found that the horses with an established (6 to 8 years) relationship with an owner were calmest when approaching the new surfaces; these horses also were readily touched by the toy.

Horses that had had multiple owners or ones that had a new owner were more reluctant when presented with novel surfaces and objects. This may negatively impact the horse-human relationship when horses are presented with new situations.

Horses older than 17 refused more often to step onto the novel surface when led by a stranger, but they almost all agreed to step on the new surface when led by their owner. This could be related to age-related changes in eyesight. 

Read more at Equine Science Update. 

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