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.

After the eight weeks the researchers tested all the foals in four standardized fear tests, some of which had been used in the habituation situations with the mares and some of which were entirely new objects or situations. The team observed the foals' behavior and evaluated their heart rates.

Across the board, foals that had seen their mothers dealing with the scary situations were mu