Foals Follow Dams’ Leads When Dealing With Scary Objects

Danish researchers recently observed that foals that watched their mothers calmly handle scary objects ended up being less fearful themselves.
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The old adage "mother knows best" doesn't just apply to humans–it appears to apply to horses as well: Danish researchers recently observed that foals that watched their mothers calmly handle scary objects ended up being less fearful themselves.

“It does appear possible to reduce foal fearfulness through the mare,” said Janne Winther Christensen, PhD. She presented her study results at the 2014 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Bredsten, Denmark.

Christensen investigated 22 pairs of mares and foals to observe how the mares might transfer habituation to the foals. Habituation refers to a horse’s ability to “get used” to a frightening object so that he no longer reacts fearfully.

Prior to foaling, all researchers habituated the mares to five different scary objects or situations, such as an open umbrella, walking over a tarp, or being rubbed with a plastic bag. After foaling, half the team presented the same five situations to half the mares once a week for eight weeks, with their foals at their sides. The foals were not tested at this time and merely observed their mothers. The other half of the mare/foal pairs were not exposed to the scary situations after foaling

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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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