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A Pilot Study on Yearlings' Reactions to Handling in Relation to the Training Method

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Handling and training methods of horses, which specially emphasize the importance of understanding horse body language and the use of reinforcements, are often used in practice, yet their effects are not completely known. This study investigated whether the use of a sympathetic approach during the preparation for public auctions influenced the reactivity of young horses towards humans. Sixteen thoroughbred yearlings were prepared for the public auctions during one month: eight horses ("Control") were handled according to conventional practices, while the others ("Treated") were handled with two sessions of basic training based on body language. The reactivity of horses was assessed in the presence of an "unfamiliar person" and a "familiar person" inside the horse's box. The experimenter recorded the presence/absence of selected behaviors during seven observational moments: "approaching the box," "opening the box door," "entering the box," and four consecutive observations every thirty seconds. Reactivity of horses was ranked during the first experience of "bit," "grooming," "shower," and application of the "surcingle." Heart rate was telemetrically recorded during this final test. At the end of the auction preparation, "Treated" horses exhibited more "contact" (p = 0.08) and "lick" (p < 0.05) behaviors in the presence of a person. "Control" horses showed higher (non-significant) percentages of negative (more nervous) rankings during "bit," "grooming," and "surcingle" tests. Two "Control" horses showed aggressive behavior during the application of the surcingle and the test was interrupted to guarantee person and animal safety. In this pilot study, horses handled with a sympathetic approach showed less reactive behaviors compared with "Control" horses. It would be interesting to enlarge the sample size and assess if the use of non-coercive handling during the whole training period influences their welfare positively and for a long time.


Document Type: Review Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/089279307X224827

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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