Can We Predict Foals’ Future Personalities? It’s Possible

Foals’ initial expressions of their developing personalities are clear signs of the horse’s adult personality–and even learning capacity–to come, researchers found.
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Foals’ initial expressions of their developing personalities are clear signs of the horse’s adult personality—and even learning capacity—to come, researchers found. | Photo: iStock
With foals, you never quite know what you’re going to get. Some of them stick like glue to Mom day and night, suckling every five minutes or less, it seems. Others gallop off from Mom so far you worry you’ll lose them. Some spend hours jumping around and playing with everyone and everything possible. Still others tend to pass their days just standing there observing their world like a future philosopher.

What we’re seeing in these baby horses are the initial expressions of a developing personality. And French equine behaviorists have learned that those are clear signs of the horse’s adult personality—and even learning capacity—to come.

“Young foals present behavioral differences in terms of the use of their time and of their relationships with their dams,” said Séverine Henry, PhD, lecturer of animal behavior at the University of Rennes, in France, speaking at the 2017 French Equine Research Day.

“These differences are indicators of certain adult personality traits such as susceptibility to emotions (fearfulness) and gregariousness (sociability with other horses), as well as of the capacity to learn a new task and to memorize it,” she said. “As such, it seems possible to predict some adult characteristics by at least three months of age.”

In their research, Henry and Martine Hausberger, PhD, studied 19 foals from the same breeding farm at two different time periods: 3 months old and at 3 years old. The foals, all French Saddlebred horses from similar breeding lines, grew up in identical management conditions. They observed the 3-month-olds for a total of six and a half hours each in 15-minute increments. During this time the researchers recorded how the foals spent their time (suckling, lying down, playing, running, watchfully observing, etc.). They also noted the distances the foals kept from their mares

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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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