Study: Poor Equine Welfare, ‘Pessimism’ Linked

Factors such as constant individual stabling and restricted feeding can make horses less optimistic, researchers found.

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When life’s got you down, do you tend to be pessimistic? According to a new study, horses sure seem to be. French researchers have learned that suboptimal living conditions, such as 24-hour individual stabling and restricted feeding, can make horses less optimistic.

“The use of cognitive bias testing—checking a horse’s level of optimism—is a useful way to ‘ask’ the horse about its own perceptions of its living conditions and even working conditions,” said Séverine Henry, PhD, of the University of Rennes in France.

“This constitutes an indispensable step in establishing management practices or working conditions which contribute toward an improvement of the horse’s quality of life or toward better prophylactic care such as treatment for back pain,” she said. Henry presented her study on equine optimism at the 2016 French Equine Research Day held in March in Paris.

In their study, the horses with the highest levels of welfare also had the highest levels of optimism in their experiments, Henry said. By contrast, however, poor welfare was always associated with pessimism in the study horses

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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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