Improving the Recognition of Equine Affective States
Equine Behaviour and Training Association, Godalming GU8 6AX, UK
EPONA-TV, 3400 Hillerød, Denmark
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 28 October 2019 / Revised: 29 November 2019 / Accepted: 3 December 2019 / Published: 11 December 2019
People commonly 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. In order to investigate the public’s ability to recognise such signs of equine distress, members of equestrian Facebook groups were asked to view and comment on six videos; these videos were selected by the authors on account of their portrayal of horses behaving in a manner suggestive of negative affect. For comparison, responses were also obtained from six equine behaviourists, who identified behaviours suggestive of varying degrees of distress. While respondents successfully recognised behaviour consistent with negative affect in some instances, 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 similarly. 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 behaviourists, suggesting that clicker trainers might be more accurate in their recognition of equine distress than other members of the equestrian community. This study can be used to inform the outreach activity of education and welfare organisations, through improved recognition, and subsequent reduction, of equine distress.