Willingness to work is typically considered a valuable trait in riding horses. Whether it’s for a presale assessment, a decision about which horse is suitable for a rider, or a breeding evaluation for stallions and mares, many individuals strive to recognize a willingness to work on a regular basis.

Judging whether a horse is "willing" to work is usually a subjective task, according to a group of German equitation scientists. Recently, however, that group has made progress in developing an objective test based on physiological and behavioral criteria in horses.

"We really need an improved way of assessing the ‘personality’ of a horse," said Uta König von Borstel, PhD, researcher at the University of Göttingen. "Selected, concrete behavior patterns may make this evaluation more impartial and reliable."

König von Borstel and her team studied 16 stallions undergoing testing for breeding in which experienced judges specifically score the horses’ "willingness to work" in a pre-established evaluation. While the judges made their subjective scores, König von Borstel and her colleagues identified specific behavioral and physiological criteria during the three events that made up the evaluation: a cross-country test (the second phase of a three-day eventing competition), a dressage test, and the temperament test (a sort of indoor "trail" test where the horse is faced with unknown objects).

The criteria the team evaluated included heart rate, rein tension, the intensity of the rider’s aids, and recognizable behaviors (such as refusals, shying, stopping