Strengths and Limitations of Equine Stress Measurements

Measuring equine stress isn’t as easy as it might sound, one researcher said. Here’s a review of the current techniques.

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Are you stressing over whether your horse could be, well, stressed? With all that we’re hearing about stress measurements in horses—cortisol levels, heart rates, etc.—we might start to think it’d be a good idea to measure our own horses' stress. But measuring stress isn’t always as easy as scientists make it sound, researchers say. And even they are at risk of error.

“Tremendous care must be used in interpreting physiological stress measures, especially if not carefully related to behavioral observations,” said Kathalijne Visser, PhD, of Horsonality consulting in De Knipe, The Netherlands, and former senior researcher in the Animal Behavior and Welfare Group of Wageningen UR Livestock Research, in Lelystad. “There is still a tremendous need for more research and additional collaboration in this area.”

In her presentation at the 2014 International Society for Equitation Science conference (ISES), held Aug. 6-9 in Bredsten, Denmark, Visser described the strengths and limitations of stress measurements.

It’s important to keep in mind that different measurement techniques can yield different results, she said. Cross-checking measurements obtained from different systems could help make results more reliable

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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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