Finding great riding school horses is a perpetual challenge for instructors. There isn’t a formula for selecting the ideal school horse–sometimes the perfect mount just comes along, and other times management methods dictate whether a school horse is a success. But a group of French researchers recently put some parameters to school horse selection and management, determining that riding horses that spend more time turned out than confined to a stall display better behavior and are easier to handle, particularly those breeds known for having calm, quiet temperaments.

Clémence Lesimple, MSc, a PhD candidate at the University of Rennes in France, and colleagues set out to determine how breed and housing condition could impact equine behavior during handling.

The study involved 184 horses at 22 French riding schools. All the horses were stabled in individual stalls and spent zero to 12+ hours in turnout daily. Breeds tested included Camargues, Connemaras, Haflingers, Mérens, Thoroughbreds, and French Saddlebreds, among others.

The researchers used three emotional tests and one learning test–all used regularly in equine behavioral studies–to evaluate whether breed and housing affected the horses’ behavior:

  • An arena test (an emotional test in which the horse is released into an indoor arena that he is familiar with and investigators observe his behavior and reactions for 10 minutes);
  • A novel object test (an emotional test in which the horse is released in the same arena, but is faced with a novel object for five minutes);
  • A bridge test (an emotional test