Can We Predict How Well a Horse Will Pay Attention?

Researchers developed a reliable test to help people determine each horse’s unique attention ability.

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How well a horse pays attention has a significant effect on his ability to learn. Now, French behavior scientists have developed a reliable attention test that will help buyers and breeders determine each horse’s unique attention ability.

The test, which is quick and easy to carry out, is an accurate predictor of a horse’s potential to learn and to perform well, said Céline Rochais, MSc, PhD, of the animal and human ethology department of the University of Rennes 1, in France. Rochais presented her work last year at the French Equine Research Day, in Paris.

“Our methodology enables us to identify attentional characteristics in horses in a simple, noninvasive way that can be used in different contexts, so as to characterize the attention of a large number of horses … and predict to a certain extent the attention and performance of those horses at work,” Rochais said. “The use of this tool will allow people to select the right horses for their needs, choose appropriate training strategies adapted to the horse’s attention span, and thereby improve the value of the animal.”

Rochais and her fellow researchers evaluated 12 broodmares’ attention levels through a simple laser-light test. For five minutes a day for two or three days, the horses were shown a laser light on their stall door that moved around in various designs. The researchers recorded numerous attention parameters, including how long it took for the horse to notice the light the first time, the number of times the horse paid attention, how long it paid attention each time, how concentrated its attention was, and the total time spent paying attention. The researchers judged a horse’s attention primarily based on its eye focus and ear movement toward the laser light

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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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