Recognising stress in a ridden horse

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A study has been presented at the recent International Society for Equitation Science conference, in Denmark by researchers Carol Hall, Rachel Kay and Kelly Yarnell that the interpretation of ridden horse behaviour by equestrian professionals is different from that suggested by physiological evidence.

Ridden horse behaviour was assessed by 12 equestrian professionals, 4 instructors, 4 riders and 4 vets. They viewed footage of 10 horses that were ridden at walk, trot and canter in a pre-defined test lasting 2-3 minutes. They were scored on 7 performance parameters derived from the FEI rules for dressage.

The video footage was also analysed independently by scientists who recorded behaviour indicators such as ear position and movement, nasal angle, mouth movement and salivation, auditory signals, head and neck position and also cortisol levels and eye temperature.

Based on the cortisol levels, horses are more stressed when they carry their necks low rather than carry them high which is the opposite of what the equestrian professionals reported.

Based on temperature, horses are more stressed when they move with their nose position behind the vertical, this was also the opposite of what the horse professionals reported.

The study is preliminary but it does appear that horse professionals do not always assess a horse’s demeanour correctly when done through a video.

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