Does a Horse’s Work Affect His Personality?

Does a horse’s daily job affect his or her personality? A a group of French researchers recently used ethology
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Horses are generally suited to a particular job based on breeding, conformation, and the individual differences in temperament that we think of as "personality." For example, a sleek, long-legged Thoroughbred is more suited to flat racing than a rotund Shetland pony. But what about the other way around? Does a horse’s daily job affect his or her personality?

To answer the question, a group of French researchers recently used ethology methods (the scientific study of animal behavior) to test "emotionality" of 119 geldings used for a specific kind of work. Emotionality is the measure of emotional reactivity to a stimulus.

"We know from a previous study that work can be associated with chronic behavioral disorders," says Martine Hausberger, PhD, director of the Department of Ethology at the University of Rennes. "We wanted to see if there were changes in the emotional reactivity of horses when exposed to different types of work."

The horses (89 French Saddlebreds and 30 Anglo Arabs, all housed at the National Riding School at Saumur) were divided into six groups according to discipline: eventing, show jumping, advanced riding school, dressage, high school (i.e., more advanced, technical training; includes the movements performed by the Lipizzan Stallions), and voltige (vaulting). All were geldings from 4 to 20 years old, were ridden for one hour per day in the designated discipline, and had been in the current discipline for at least one year

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Written by:

Nancy Zacks holds an M.S. in Science Journalism from the Boston University College of Communication. She grew up in suburban Philadelphia where she learned to ride over fields and fences in nearby Malvern, Pa. When not writing, she enjoys riding at an eventing barn, drawing and painting horses, volunteering at a therapeutic riding program, and walking with Lilly, her black Labrador Retriever.

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