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Article

Equine Activities Influence Horses’ Responses to Different Stimuli: Could This Have an Impact on Equine Welfare?

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Behavioral and Physiological Mechanisms of Adaptation Department, Research Institute in Semiochemistry and Applied Ethology (IRSEA), 84400 Apt, France
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Animal Experimentation Department, IRSEA, 84400 Apt, France
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Statistical Analysis Department, IRSEA, 84400 Apt, France
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Semiochemicals’ Identification and Analogs’ Design Department, IRSEA, 84400 Apt, France
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(6), 290; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9060290
Received: 19 February 2019 / Revised: 4 May 2019 / Accepted: 24 May 2019 / Published: 29 May 2019
Horses are required to perform a wide variety of activities. Training a horse for these activities may influence the horse’s perception of and reactions to different stimuli. This study investigated the reactivity and emotional responses of horses involved by humans in different equine activities (dressage, jumping, eventing and equine-assisted activity/therapy) by studying their physiological and behavioral responses to different stimuli. A test setting with five phases was created to test equine responses to five different stimuli and compare these responses among horses from the different disciplines. It was demonstrated that the horses involved in the different activities had different responses, both physiologically and behaviorally, to the studied stimuli. These findings suggest that training a horse for a specific activity modifies the perception of stimuli and the strategies that the horse uses to balance its emotional state. Thus, horses involved in different activities probably behave differently according to their training. Such information is of great importance in improving training methods, with the aim of increasing equine welfare.
The learning and cognitive challenges that horses may face differ according to the activities in which they are involved. The aim of this investigation was to study the influence of equine activities on the behavioral responses and autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity of adult horses. Forty-one horses were divided into four groups: dressage (9), jumping (10), eventing (13) and equine-assisted activity/therapy (9). A test was created to compare the horses’ behavioral and physiological responses to different stimuli. The goal was always to obtain a treat. To study the ANS activity, heart rate variability was assessed using the standard deviation of the R-R intervals (SDNN), square root of the mean of the sum of the squares of differences between successive interbeat-intervals (RMSSD) and low frequency/high frequency (LF/HF). To assess behavioral responses, video analysis was performed considering the following behaviors: exploration, interactions with another horse, and latency to approach. Significant differences in SDNN (DF = 3; F = 3.36; p = 0.0202), RMSSD (DF = 3; F = 4.09; p = 0.0078), LF/HF (DF = 3; F = 4.79; p = 0.0031), exploration (DF = 3; F = 5.79; p = 0.0013) and latency to approach (DF = 3; F = 8.97; p < 0.0001) were found among horses from different equine activities. The activity that adult horses practice appears to influence behavioral and physiological responses to different stimuli, thus impacting equine welfare. View Full-Text
Keywords: behavior; horse; equitation; heart rate variability; reactivity; welfare behavior; horse; equitation; heart rate variability; reactivity; welfare
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MDPI and ACS Style

Mendonça, T.; Bienboire-Frosini, C.; Kowalczyk, I.; Leclercq, J.; Arroub, S.; Pageat, P. Equine Activities Influence Horses’ Responses to Different Stimuli: Could This Have an Impact on Equine Welfare? Animals 2019, 9, 290. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9060290

AMA Style

Mendonça T, Bienboire-Frosini C, Kowalczyk I, Leclercq J, Arroub S, Pageat P. Equine Activities Influence Horses’ Responses to Different Stimuli: Could This Have an Impact on Equine Welfare? Animals. 2019; 9(6):290. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9060290

Chicago/Turabian Style

Mendonça, Tiago, Cécile Bienboire-Frosini, Izabela Kowalczyk, Julien Leclercq, Sana Arroub, and Patrick Pageat. 2019. "Equine Activities Influence Horses’ Responses to Different Stimuli: Could This Have an Impact on Equine Welfare?" Animals 9, no. 6: 290. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9060290

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