Study: Horse Owners Best Predictors of Equine Motivation

Researchers believe the best predictor of a horse’s motivation is someone who knows the animal well.

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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.

Wouldn’t it be great if researchers could decipher a way to predict which horses are going to be motivated to learn new things? A group of equitation scientists from the Czech Republic tried, but according to their recent study results, the best predictor of whether a horse is motivated to learn is someone who knows the animal.

"In our study, only the assessment of a horse’s good learning ability by a person having a long-lasting relationship with the horse could significantly predict if it would complete the task (in the study)," said Miroslava Pokornà, PhD candidate and researcher in the department of ethology at the Institute of Animal Science in Prague. Pokornà completed her research under the supervision of Jitka Bartošová, PhD, and presented the findings at the 8th International Society for Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Pokornà and colleagues ran a common spatial learning test on 53 riding horses: the horses had to learn to walk 25 meters (82 feet) around a fence to get to a bucket of food. Before starting the test, the researchers evaluated many different parameters that might predict the outcome of horses’ success. The list included age, sex, personality (as judged by the horse’s owner), dominance status, social dependency on other horses and on humans, and its estimated learning ability (again, as judged by the horse’s owner)

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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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