Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Audiences’ Effects on Horse and Rider Stress Levels

Researchers found that performing for an audience did not affect horses’ stress levels compared to training.

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Editor’s note: This article is part of’s ongoing coverage of topics presented at the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Does simply the thought of competing or riding in front of a crowd of people cause your heart to race and stress to set in? You’re probably not alone. But rest assured: Even if you’re feeling a little weak in the knees from all those eyes watching you, your trusty steed probably isn’t. Equitation scientists recently learned that audiences, large or small, have little to no effect on experienced horses’ stress levels.

According to Mareike Becker-Birck, PhD, researcher at the Graf Lehndorff Institute for Equine Science in Neustadt, Germany, show horses have no more parasympathetic (nervous and hormonal) stress reactions during public performances than they do during training, even if their riders do. Becker-Birck presented study results supporting this conclusion at the 8th International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

To come to this conclusion, Becker-Birck and colleagues employed eight geldings–classical dressage horses from the French National Equestrian School in Saumur–and their seven male riders during a dress rehearsal and during a public performance in front of hundreds of spectators. Both activities occurred at their home arena in

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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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