"He has a great temperament." You might have heard an owner or trainer say these words when describing a horse, but how do we really define temperament?

According to Jeannine Berger, DVM, Dipl. ACVB, of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in California, one of the most useful and consistent indicators of equine temperament is a horse’s novelty response, or how he handles or copes with new objects or situations. She presented the results of a recent novelty response study she and colleagues conducted on adult horses at the 9th Annual International Society for Equitation Science, held July 18-20 at the University of Delaware, in Newark.

"Studying temperament—including one of its key components, response to novelty—has an important impact on equine welfare and the human-horse relationship," Berger said.

She explained that horses commonly display a startle response when faced with novel objects. "Horses that detect a novel object may startle and flee from it, then avoid it, ignore it, and approach it. The most reactive individuals—those most likely to startle—are those most likely to investigate (the object) if not forced." This contradictory behavior is what researchers call the "novelty paradox," which Berger took into account while performing her research.

In the study Berger and her team evaluated the behavior of 46 adult Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses (25 mares and 21 geldings, primarily Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses ages 3-29) housed in their home outdoor pens when presented with three novel objects: a yoga ball, a plastic saucer, and