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Age-Related Changes in the Behaviour of Domestic Horses as Reported by Owners

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Sydney School of Veterinary Science, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney, Camperdown, NSW 2006, Australia
2
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney, Camperdown, NSW 2006, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(12), 2321; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10122321
Received: 16 November 2020 / Revised: 1 December 2020 / Accepted: 3 December 2020 / Published: 7 December 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Human-Animal Interactions, Animal Behaviour and Emotion)
Some treatments for common problem behaviours in domestic horses can compromise horse welfare. Such behaviours can be the manifestation of pain, confusion and conflict. In contrast, among the desirable attributes in horses, boldness and independence are two important behavioural traits that affect the fearfulness, assertiveness and sociability of horses when interacting with their environment, objects, conspecifics and humans. Shy and socially dependent horses are generally more difficult to manage and train than their bold and independent counterparts. Previous studies have shown how certain basic temperament traits predict the behavioural output of horses, but few have investigated how the age of the horse and the age it was when started being trained under saddle affect behaviour. Using 1940 responses to the Equine Behaviour Assessment and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ), the current study explored the behavioural evidence of boldness and independence in horses and how these related to the age of the horse. Results revealed age-related effects on boldness and independence of horses. Older horses were bolder than younger horses, but horses started under saddle at an older age were less bold and independent than those started at a younger age. Additionally, significant differences in boldness and independence relating to specific breeds and primary equestrian disciplines also emerged. Finally, riders with eight or more years of riding experience reported having more independent horses than those who had ridden their whole lives. Understanding how horses’ ages affect behavioural traits can improve horse–rider matching and potentially also optimise welfare.
The broad traits of boldness and independence in domestic horses can affect their usefulness and, indirectly, their welfare. The objective of the current study was to explore associations between attributes that reflect equine boldness and independence with both the age of horses and the age at which they were started under saddle, as well as other variables including breed, colour and primary equestrian discipline. All data were sourced from responses (n = 1940) to the 97-question online Equine Behaviour Assessment and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ). Twenty E-BARQ items from the dataset were selected to reflect boldness and independence and were tested for univariate significance at p < 0.2. Multivariable modelling of the effect of age on remaining traits was assessed by an ordinal logistic regression, using a cumulative log odds model. This revealed that older horses were bolder (p = 0.012). However, horses started under saddle at an older age were less bold and less independent (p = 0.040 and p = 0.010, respectively). Australian Stock Horses were bolder and more independent (p = 0.014 and p = 0.007, respectively) than crossbreed horses. Horses used for breeding conformation (p = 0.039), working equitation (p = 0.045), eventing (p = 0.044) and traditional working horses (p = 0.034) were bolder than those used for other disciplines. Dressage (p = 0.039) and therapy (p = 0.040) horses were less bold than horses used for other disciplines. Stallions were bolder (p = −0.034) than geldings. Brown (p = 0.049) and chestnut (p = 0.027) horses were less bold than bay horses. Compared to crossbreed horses, Thoroughbreds (p = 0.000) and companion horses (p = 0.017) were less bold whilst heavy horses (p = 0.029) and ponies (p = 0.044) were bolder. Compared to pleasure horses, mounted games horses (p = 0.033) were less independent whereas working equitation horses (p = 0.020) were more independent. Riders with more than eight years’ experience reported more independence in their horses (p = 0.015) than those who had ridden their whole lives. The study findings suggest that boldness and independence are separate traits and only boldness was associated with the age of the horse. Factors that relate to desirable boldness and independence are important in ridden horses because they can affect rider safety. Results from this study should improve horse–rider matching and thereby potentially enhance horse welfare. View Full-Text
Keywords: temperament; trainability; boldness; independence; welfare; rider safety temperament; trainability; boldness; independence; welfare; rider safety
MDPI and ACS Style

Burattini, B.; Fenner, K.; Anzulewicz, A.; Romness, N.; McKenzie, J.; Wilson, B.; McGreevy, P. Age-Related Changes in the Behaviour of Domestic Horses as Reported by Owners. Animals 2020, 10, 2321. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10122321

AMA Style

Burattini B, Fenner K, Anzulewicz A, Romness N, McKenzie J, Wilson B, McGreevy P. Age-Related Changes in the Behaviour of Domestic Horses as Reported by Owners. Animals. 2020; 10(12):2321. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10122321

Chicago/Turabian Style

Burattini, Bibiana, Kate Fenner, Ashley Anzulewicz, Nicole Romness, Jessica McKenzie, Bethany Wilson, and Paul McGreevy. 2020. "Age-Related Changes in the Behaviour of Domestic Horses as Reported by Owners" Animals 10, no. 12: 2321. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10122321

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