Abstract onderzoek

HORSES’ REACTIONS TO A VARIETY OF EVERYDAY STIMULI IN A LIVERY ENVIRONMENT: AN OBSERVATIONAL STUDY IDENTIFYING THE MOST FREQUENT EQUINE SOCIAL COMMUNICATIVE BEHAVIOURS AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO VARYING LEVELS OF SITUATIONAL TENSION.
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Authors:
drs. R.Draaisma
Calming Signals of Horses, Kempkesstraat 16, 6596DZ Milsbeek, Limburg, The Netherlands
T.Rugaas
Hagan Hundeskole, Geithus, Norway

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Abstract:
Study objectives: Firstly, mapping the horses’ levels of tension in response to a variety of everyday stimuli in a livery environment. Secondly, investigating if horses use relationship-managing signals in response to stimuli in their environment that they want to appease in order to avert conflict and maintain social relationships. We have chosen the term Calming Signals to refer to these signals. Thirdly, to see how tension relates to possible Calming Signals. This abstract covers the first phase of the study, which is now continuing in its second phase. Methods: Video footage forms the basis of the study. Two hundred videos of domesticated horses of various breeds in interaction with humans, or with humans in proximity of twenty meters, were analysed. This includes horses being saddled, groomed, brought to pasture, introduced to unfamiliar horses, and so forth. The position of the head, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and tail of the horse were observed, as well as the body postures and movements of the horses in relation to each other and the people present. This study is based on real-life situations: footage was never staged. Conclusions: Horses react to everyday stimuli with varying features and behavioural responses. Certain features and behaviours are linked to accompanying tension levels. For easy visualisation, we have placed conclusions from this study on ladders (attached). During this observational study, we have noted signalling and interaction patterns. Some of these patterns have an appeasing character aimed at averting negative escalation and at preserving a positive social climate. We describe twenty of these signals, which we call Calming Signals, that occur in these patterns. For example: half closing the eyes, splitting, curving, and showing the flank or hindquarters. We also describe how tension relates to the identified Calming Signals. Limitations and Value: This is a unique study because this area has not yet been studied extensively in the field of equine science, and this is a preliminary attempt to identify the common behaviours in a real-life, non-controlled environment and to determine if they are linked to tension and/or have an appeasing character. Limits are that there is no body of literature to guide analysis. Strengths are that careful observations of equine behaviour and interactions under various defined conditions provides information that will be useful in guiding future studies. This study also stimulates equine handlers and riders to pay closer attention to the features and behaviours of their horses.

Lay message:
A clearer understanding of equine body language allows horse handlers and riders to avoid undue stress in their horses and improve the partnership through communication and attention to their horses’ wellbeing. This study aims to improve understanding of equine body language by analysing features, behaviours, and interaction patterns in relation to tension in real-life situations. A special emphasis is also on the role and description of Calming Signals, the signals horses use for appeasement to avert negative escalation and preserve a positive social climate. This study is useful in guiding future studies. Phase 2 of this study is in progress.

Keywords: behaviours; communication; calming signals, tension, welfare