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Since ancient times, horse behaviour, and the bond between horses and humans, has been a source of intrigue and fascination.

The horse-lore that has accumulated over the centuries is a rich mix of both useful practice (approaching horses from their left side, making them slightly less reactive) and unsubstantiated myth, such as the one that chestnut horses are especially difficult to deal with.

That’s why my colleagues and I at the University of Sydney are launching a global database of horse behaviour. Both vets and owners can log a horse’s physical, mental and social development, creating an evidence base on what constitutes normal and abnormal equine behaviour, and what defines good, effective and humane training.

This project builds on a similar project for dogs, which has collected information on over 85,000 dogs and been used in more than 70 research studies that have revealed behavioural differences that relate to head and body shape and the astonishing effect of desexing on behaviour.

Now it is the horses’ turn

We have created an online behavioural assessment package for horses and ponies, called the Equine Behaviour Assessment and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ) that collects anonymous data for horse behaviour researchers, veterinarians and coaches.

It’s a not-for-profit project that allows the global horse-folk community to donate their observational data to the University of Sydney and gain useful benefits in return.

Horse owners can upload photographs and videos to a custom-built app, recording their horse’s progress in training and competition over time. For the first time, they’ll also be able to compare their horse’s behaviour with that of other horses. The “share-&-compare” graphs will reveal attributes such as trainability, rideability, handling, compliance, boldness, and human social confidence.

There are two benefits. Firstly, owners can compare their horses’ behaviour to others around the world, giving them a useful benchmark.

Secondly, it will reveal the true impact of ancient traditions and modern trends. This can use used by everyone from the general riding public to veterinarians.

As E-BARQ can monitor the longitudinal consequences of different training methods, it can be a powerful tool for advancing horse welfare. It will also inform evidence-based judgements on the ethics and sustainability of horse sports.

Human safely, horse welfare

Horse vets know the importance of horse behaviour, as it often affects their safety. Indeed, a recent UK study has shown equine vet practice to be the civilian occupation with the highest risk of injury, surpassing firefighters. But vets also rely on owners to observe horse behaviour because it indicates health and recovery from surgery or disease. With the permission of owners, vets and riding coaches can monitor their clients’ horses over time in the app.

Being able to compare the behaviour of horses around the world will provide a hugely useful database. Grigorita Ko/Shutterstock

The questionnaire and app will expose how training and management influences horse behaviour, and vice versa. They will reveal how breeds differ in responses and illuminate breed-typical personality types, how male and female horses differ, how horses used in different disciplines (such as showjumping versus dressage) differ in their behaviour and how horse behaviour changes with maturation and training.

A horse’s behaviour has a direct impact on its usefulness and that, in turn, affects its value and – sadly – the care it receives. There is evidence from Europe that over 65% of horses outside the racing industry are slaughtered before the age of seven, very often for behavioural reasons.


Read more:
Getting the facts about work in horse stables


Understandably, given riding is the most dangerous sport for children, parents crave authentic assessment of ponies’ behaviour. Information in E-BARQ could potentially help buyers identify warning signs of dangerous behaviours and make more informed choices.

By providing researchers with an unprecedented wealth of information, E-BARQ has the potential to revolutionise the way we train and manage our horses and, as a result, make real and lasting positive changes in horse welfare and the sustainability of horse sports.The Conversation

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Professor Paul McGreevy, BVSc, PhD

Paul McGreevy is a riding instructor, veterinarian and ethologist. He is Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare at the University of Sydney's School of Veterinary Science. A prolific author and award-winning scientist, he is a co-founder and Honorary Fellow of the International Society for Equitation Science.

Kate Fenner, BEqSc (Hons)

Kate is an Equine Scientist (Charles Sturt University), PhD Candidate (Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney), equestrian coach (Equestrian Australia and British Horse Society) and horse trainer (John and Josh Lyons Certified Trainer). Kate has ridden, trained and competed in dressage, jumping, western and polo in Australia, Europe, the United States and Asia.

Dr Michelle Hyde
Dr Michelle Hyde, Senior Lecturer Animal Sciences, University of Sydney

Michelle's has an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Science, a PhD in Nutritional Sciences, a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, a Diploma in Editing and Publishing as well as Certification in Training and Assessment and Small Business management. She is an active Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and has achieved excellence in academia in teaching, research and administration and been awarded a number of prestigious teaching awards. She has published widely in prestigious scientific journals in the veterinary and medical science areas and educational psychology as well as ethics and welfare. She gained expertise in time management, organisational and multi-tasking skills during her time as a freelancer in academic and technical writing and editing. She says her career in the public service has considerably widened her skills in team leadership, successful conflict negotiation for win-win outcomes and working effectively within public regulation frameworks.

Dr Bethany Wilson
Dr Bethany Wilson, BVSc, PhD

Dr Bethany Wilson is a veterinary epidemiologist with special interest in animal welfare, animal behaviour and quantitative genetics.

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