Researchers Compare Different Types of Horses’ Temperaments

Factors such as age, breed, discipline, and more can impact a horse’s temperament, scientists found.

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Researchers Compare Different Types of Horses
Draft horses appeared less sensitive to touch and seemed to move around less in stalls than sport horses. | Photo: iStock
Standardized temperament tests have become useful in the equine industry, helping breeders and buyers determine which horse is right for which rider and discipline. Five years into its existence, the “complete temperament test” is getting a closer look from French researchers. And they’re finding significant trends with regard to horse age, breed, discipline, and ease of riding.

While a horse’s temperament remains fairly constant throughout life, certain aspects of that temperament—notably, fear and reaction to social isolation—can evolve as the horse matures. It is important, therefore, to keep age and breed in mind when considering temperament, said Marianne Vidament, DVM, researcher at the French Institute for Horses and Riding (IFCE). Vidament presented her work at the 2015 French Equine Research Day, held March 12 in Paris.

Specifically, Vidament and her colleagues’ study revealed that:

  • The intensity of certain reactions—especially fear—depend on age;
  • Draft breeds and light riding horse breeds differ especially in their sensitivity to touch and how much they move in a stall; and
  • Horses that are easiest for low-level riders to ride are less fearful and less active during social isolation.

Using the complete temperament test (developed by researcher Lea Lansade, PhD), the team compared the temperaments of 70 young stallions (aged 3 to 6) to 70 older stallions (aged 13 to 19) and 27 young mares (aged 2 to 4) to 15 older mares (aged 5 to 12). To evaluate differences between breeds, the researchers compared stallions of five breeds: 24 Merens and draft horses, 20 leisure saddle horses, 48 sport ponies, 30 Warmblood sport horses, and 14 Arabians. And, for ease of riding, they compared 89 stallions considered safe for low-to-intermediate riders to 34 stallions requiring advanced riders; 17 mares acceptable for low-level riders to 13 requiring intermediate-to-high-level riders; and 26 riding school horses appropriate for intermediate riders to 28 riding school horses requiring advanced riders. They also studied the association with discipline by comparing 12 show jumping horses, 19 eventers, and 25 dressage horses

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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.

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