Temple Grandin: Horses Need To See Objects From All Sides

Understanding that horses view different sides of objects as entirely new means we can desensitize them to everyday objects from all angles for better safety and welfare, the researcher says.
Share
Favorite
Close

No account yet? Register

ADVERTISEMENT

Temple Grandin: Horses Need To See Objects From All Sides
When they saw the same playset rotated to a new angle, many of the study’s horses reacted exactly as they had when seeing the playset for the first time, researcher Temple Grandin said. | Courtesy Animals
Have you ever reconsidered things from a different angle?

Horses do it all the time. And when they do, they see those things—whether they’re tractors or umbrellas or hatboxes or kids’ playsets—from a totally new and, hence, potentially terrifying, perspective.

By understanding that horses view different sides of things as entirely new, we can aim to desensitize them to everyday objects from all angles for better safety and welfare, says Temple Grandin, PhD, professor of animal science at Colorado State University (CSU), in Fort Collins.

“People are often verbal thinkers and use language to describe things,” Grandin told The Horse. “They’ll look at a child’s playset and say, ‘Oh that’s a playset,’ and have no reason to be afraid of it. But horses are very visual thinkers. Visual thinkers develop specific visual images that aren’t always the same when the object rotates. So to understand animals and the way they think, you have to get away from verbal language.”

Grandin—who identifies herself, like horses and other animals, as “an extremely visual thinker”—was inspired to study how horses react to new angles of familiar objects after hearing her students’ stories about their horses spooking.

“One student had a big hatbox that she kept a cowboy hat in, and she would ride her horse carrying the hatbox, set it on the ground, and carry it around with her,” Grandin said. “And one day, she set the hatbox on a picnic table, and the horse went completely berserk. The hatbox had turned into something new.”

Grandin teamed up with Megan Corgan, MSc, and Sarah Matlock, MSc, both at CSU, to test the reactions of 20 of the school’s young Quarter Horses (aged 2 to 3 years) to a children’s playset.

The scientists chose a colorful plastic playset with an approximately square base and a slide on one side. Five times a day for the first three days of the study, they led the horses using a leather halter and lead rope through an empty indoor barn aisle. If the horses wanted to stop, raise their heads, and/or flare their nostrils, the handlers allowed this for three seconds at a time before urging the horse forward using lead rope pressure.

On the fourth day, they set the playset in the barn aisle and again led the horses by halter through the aisle five times a day for three days, respecting a distance of 3 feet from the playset. They used the same habituation technique as before.

Then, for half the horses, they rotated the playset 90 degrees while keeping it in the same position for the others—the control group. Once again, the researchers led all 20 horses through the aisle five times a day for three more days, keeping 3 feet from the playset and using the same habituation technique. They video-recorded the behavior of all the horses during each passage through the aisle.

While the researchers noted a lot of individual variation between horses, most took between four and 13 passes to habituate—meaning they walked calmly without startling or flaring their nostrils—to the new or changed object, Grandin said.

However, whereas horses in the control group generally continued to act calm as they passed the unmoved playset another 15 times, the other horses did not. Upon seeing the same playset rotated to a new angle, many of them reacted exactly as they had when seeing the playset for the first time, she said.

“The rotated playset had become a totally new object for them,” Grandin said.

The results underline the importance of introducing horses to objects from all angles, especially things they’re likely to come across during a ride, said Grandin.

“We did this study in-hand at a walk, but if it had been with a rider at a gallop, it would certainly have led to someone getting hurt,” she said.

“For the safety of the horse and the rider, and the welfare of the horse, we need to desensitize our horses to these everyday objects—playsets, lounge chairs, and anything else in our day-to-day lives that look different from different sides—from all positions and all angles.”

Share

Written by:

Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

Related Articles

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with

FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com

Sponsored Content

Weekly Poll

sponsored by:

When do you begin to prepare/stock up on products/purchase products for these skin issues?
97 votes · 97 answers

Readers’ Most Popular

Sign In

Don’t have an account? Register for a FREE account here.

Need to update your account?

You need to be logged in to fill out this form

Create a free account with TheHorse.com!