Horse Behavior: Researchers Need a Welfare Ethogram

Scientists and handlers use a large range of methods and opinions when interpreting equine behavior. A researcher from New Zealand calls for a standard.
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Horse Behavior: Researchers Need a Welfare Ethogram
Scientists seemed to evaluate overall emotional state—which, Waran said, becomes more important when considering a horse’s true welfare status—best by observing horses’ behavioral habits and how they evolve over time. | Photo: iStock

We’re moving toward a new era of equine welfare. And with it comes a new understanding of how to assess how well each horse is faring.

Specifically, a shift from focusing on negative welfare to positive welfare has pushed scientists and handlers alike to try to read horses’ emotions. But with a large range of views, methods, and interpretation of equine behavior, it’s time for a consensus, said one researcher.

“We want to know how horses feel, what their mental state is, and make sure that they’re living a good life,” said Natalie Waran, PhD, equitation science fellow and professor of One Welfare at Eastern Institute of Technology, in Napier, New Zealand

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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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