Exploring Horse Reactivity and Habituation Across Work Types

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Wires, Chloe Cousineau
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Middle Tennessee State University
Previous research indicates horse behavior is affected by level of training, within the same type of work. The purpose of this research was to identify patterns of behavior in horses trained for different types of work. Eighteen adult horses trained for mounted patrol, equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT), or show, were evenly selected into three groups respective to type of work. All horses were individually turned loose in an 18 m diameter round pen and exposed to one of three novel stimuli (fog machine, 5.2 m tall air dancer, paintball gun) having visual and auditory components. For reactivity assessment, each horse was fitted with a heart rate (HR) monitor and Fitbit. Each horse was given a 30 s adjustment period to the round pen. Following the adjustment period, baseline reactivity was measured over an additional 30 s. Exposure to each stimulus was temporarily ceased for 60 s. Exposure to each stimulus resumed and habituation was measured. Heart rate was recorded every 10 s and the Fitbit step count was recorded immediately prior to entering and after exiting the round pen. A mixed model with repeated measures (SAS) was used to analyze effects of work type on heart rate, habituation, and steps. No difference in HR was reported when exposed to the air dancer (P > 0.45). Patrol HR was greater than EAAT (P = 0.023) and Show (P = 0.012) with no difference between EAAT and Show (P = 0.77) when exposed to fog. Patrol HR was greater than EAAT (P = 0.046) and Show (P = 0.027) with no difference between EAAT and Show (P = 0.79) when exposed to the gun. No difference in habituation was reported between work types when exposed to fog (P > 0.43) or gun (P > 0.82). EAAT habituation tended to be greater than Show (P = 0.073) when exposed to the air dancer. No difference in steps was reported when exposed to the air dancer (P > 0.76) or gun (P > 0.77). Patrol steps were greater than EAAT (P = 0.017) and Show (P = 0.014) with no difference between EAAT and Show (P = 0.93) when exposed to fog. These results agree with previous studies while also showing that type of work affects reactivity when exposed to novel stimuli. This study documented reactivity of horses that may be applicable when selecting horses for certain jobs.
Behavior, Habituation, Stimuli