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PostPosted: Sun Jun 12, 2011 2:30 am 

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http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=18337

Does a Horse's Work Affect His Personality?
by: Nancy Zacks
June 03 2011, Article # 18337

PrintEmailAdd to FavoritesShareThisHorses are generally suited to a particular job based on breeding, conformation, and the individual differences in temperament that we think of as "personality." For example, a sleek, long-legged Thoroughbred is more suited to flat racing than a rotund Shetland pony. But what about the other way around? Does a horse's daily job affect his or her personality?

To answer the question, a group of French researchers recently used ethology methods (the scientific study of animal behavior) to test "emotionality" of 119 geldings used for a specific kind of work. Emotionality is the measure of emotional reactivity to a stimulus.

"We know from a previous study that work can be associated with chronic behavioral disorders," says Martine Hausberger, PhD, director of the Department of Ethology at the University of Rennes. "We wanted to see if there were changes in the emotional reactivity of horses when exposed to different types of work."

The horses (89 French Saddlebreds and 30 Anglo Arabs, all housed at the National Riding School at Saumur) were divided into six groups according to discipline: eventing, show jumping, advanced riding school, dressage, high school (i.e., more advanced, technical training; includes the movements performed by the Lipizzan Stallions), and voltige (vaulting). All were geldings from 4 to 20 years old, were ridden for one hour per day in the designated discipline, and had been in the current discipline for at least one year.

"Subjects lived under the same conditions (same housing, same food), were of the same sex, (were) one of two breeds, and had not been genetically selected for their current type of work," Hausberger noted in the study.

Following a workday at the assigned job, the researchers measured each horse's emotional reactivity by observing his responses to three increasingly challenging tests:

•The "arena test," during which the horse was released alone into a familiar arena;
•The "novel object test," in which the horse is placed in an area with a new object to investigate; and
•The "bridge test," where the horse was led over an unknown object built with a foam mattress.
After reviewing the collected data, the researchers determined that the horses' type of work seemed to affect their responses to emotional challenges.

In both the arena test and the novel object test, the dressage and the high school horses "showed more high locomotive and excited behavioral patterns, such as snorting, tail raised, or vigilance." The latter quality was defined in the study as when "the horse stands still and holds its neck high, with intently oriented head and ears," and indicated that they were more reactive to the tests. Conversely, the jumping horses were most prone to approach and touch the novel object.

In the bridge test, jumping horses and vaulting horses crossed the bridge in the least amount of time, followed by eventers, advanced school horses, high school, and dressage horses.

Cumulatively, the team noted that the vaulting horses "showed the quietest profiles (e.g. slow walk and rolling in the dirt) when released," and the dressage and high school horses showed the greatest emotional response.

According to the researchers, "The fact that dressage riders expect their horses to react quickly to their orders might develop their 'sensitiveness' to the point that can easily lead to nervousness, and by repetition in the long term, become an integral part of the horse's personality."

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Conversely, they continued, "jumping and vaulting horses have more chances to express locomotion needs ... which might explain their quieter responses to the tests in a handling fear situation."

On average, the eventing horses and advanced school horses were more sensitive (emotionally reactive) than the jumpers and vaulters, but less sensitive than the dressage and high school horses, the researchers noted. No explanation was given as to the possible reason.

The study, "Does Work Affect Personality? A Study in Horses," was published in the open access Public Library of Science Journal, PLoS One, and is available online.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 12, 2011 3:28 am 
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It's interesting, but in reality, often, horses are selected for their work based on particular traits that may help the horse in that work. For instance, the vaulting horses have to be rock steady, emotionally and physically. For the dressage horses,those that have a certain amount of inherent sensitivity are better suited to the task (both lower level dressage AND high school). One of the reasons I chose Tam (among several reasons) was his physical sensitivity. Emotional sensitivity can certainly go hand in hand with that. One of the reasons his breeder allowed me to buy him was that she was convinced I would treat that sensitivity with care and respect.

Jumping horses are excitable. and yet, require similar traits as the vaulting horses in that they tend to "get over it" quickly in the face of novel items (they see new/dramatic jumps all the time...flapping flags, etc).

So....I really don't see that they proved anything in this test. It can still be argued that the horses were selected to do the work asked of them, rather than the work really shaping their tendency to react in a specific way. And you can bet that the horses of the Samur are selected quite carefully for traits beneficial to the jobs the horses are doing.

I really think they are mistaken when saying the horses were not genetically selected for the current work. At the Samur? They don't take care in breeding or pay careful attention to bloodlines? Ha! I say.... :funny:

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2011 2:35 am 
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I think that it's very likely to be both.

I've watched Stardust unwinding from being a grand prix jumper -- bred to be so, sired by Galoubet (the big dude in the Selle Français world), etc.

His personality has changed dramatically since he came to me. Some of this is him working through trauma, but a lot of it is how differently his world is presented to him. Like many jumpers/dressage horses (and many warmbloods, or so I've read), he has tended to like patterns very much -- he would get a pattern quickly and then would assume we would repeat it. Anything outside of the pattern was upsetting to him -- to the point where he'd have meltdowns over changes in his surroundings/rhythms. As his initial trauma got manageable, he stabilized -- but then I found that the more work we did with dressage, the more pronounced his need for structure got.

As that part of his life has receded, and especially since he's been thrown into a completely new universe of experiences -- weather, smells, sounds, other animals, etc., he is relaxing into a very different way of interacting with his world.

I would guess that Tam would react very differently than most of these horses tested because his ability to shape his world is SO radically different from these horses...

I also think that this kind of experiment would be very shaped by the emotions/thought processes/energies coming off of the riders -- I think it can be really hard to divorce what the pictures in our heads are from what actually happens...

Anyway, interesting stuff!
:)

L.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2011 8:15 am 
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Interesting research. Or at least it´s an interesting idea. I´m also - again - sceptical about the outcome. Although I admit, I have not read the whole paper, so I´m basically assuming things here.
I don´t suppose this study was a long term process, starting with the raw horses, before they ever came to Saumur for advanced training. (As as I know, Saumur is not breeding their own horses, but just training them, but I could be mistaken here.) However, my point is that the authors of this study probably couldn´t evaluate the personality of the horse before coming to Saumur, so it´s quite a dangerous business to deduce the process from the end result. Also it seems foolish to assume that the horses were not selected for their personality according to the tasks they are supposed to perform.
Another thing I don´t like about this is the generalisation of the disciplines. I guess it´s rather safe to say that in Saumur the horses in one discipline are trained almost in the same way according to their training standards, but even then one must take into account that every trainer changes the personality of the horse in some way. It´s certainly dangerous in my opinion to subsume that all dressage trainers will produce more fidgety horse personalities than trainers in other disciplines for example. The result of training is much more depending on the personality and the overall philosophy of the trainer than on the discipline.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2011 12:23 pm 
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Have to agree with you Volker. Seems like a lot of these studies lack experimental discipline, at least as I understand scientific research. I notice the French are being cited a lot by the U.S. magazine, The Horse, and yet all the studies cited tend to have these same limitations and questions concerning uncontrolled variables.

I recall having read before that tension and stress is highest in dressage horses generally than other activities, and I think too eventing and racing were up there at the top. Endurance horses seemed, if I recall correctly, to be the least stressed - which makes sense to me in an evolutionary pattern. That use would be closest to the horse ancestors' own day to day life. We share that with them and walking, for us, seems to be a near perfect exercise for both body and psyche.

The study I want to see is that which examines the effects of various handling methods on stress for horses. I see some signs that intense ground handling up the anxiety level of the horse, but then too I've seen, I think, that ground handling of certain kinds - problem solving rather than big athletic activity (there's that dressage thing coming into it) seems to be most calming to the horse, or very calming. And I think more so with the attitude of the handler being a major factor.

All speculative on my part of course, and from having read various studies over the years as well as from observation. And boy, have I been wrong before. :roll: :funny:

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2011 3:41 pm 
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Quote:
I recall having read before that tension and stress is highest in dressage horses generally than other activities


It makes sense to me that any horse that is allowed to carry body tension on a regular basis will also suffer from heightened emotional stress (and be displayed as either overt or invert tendencies....ie, outbursts or shutting down/zoning out). On the back of that belief, the results of the study make some sense...the horses that must carry themselves less on the forehand, routinely, will tend to be more emotional UNLESS the composure is addressed and sought at every little step (ie, correct classical work).

Of course I can be wrong!!! :yes:

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2011 5:33 pm 
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I do not think you are wrong. I think you are observing very much what is happening.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:39 am 
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Karen wrote:
It makes sense to me that any horse that is allowed to carry body tension on a regular basis will also suffer from heightened emotional stress (and be displayed as either overt or invert tendencies....ie, outbursts or shutting down/zoning out).
I concur with you that heightened body tension needed for collected movements for example require a heightened level of stress. I guess physical and emotional stress. But I believe there´s such a thing as eustress and distress (good stress and bad stress). Means that if a horse is physically and emotionally ready to do the task and if the tasks are set in fair and achievable increments (slow/classical training) that the stress that is needed to achieve the goal is rather a good one. And actually a healthy one. If challenges are achievable they work as positive reinforcements and hence make the subject rise with the challenge.
I don´t believe that the emotionality that comes with the training of the passage for example is a priori a bad thing. A posing stallion is surely under a lot of emotional stress in such a moment, but it´s not necessarily bad stress for him I guess.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2011 4:44 pm 
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Absolutely Volker...the point I didn't make clear is that some people address the composure of the horse at every step, and others do not. By composure, I mean a combination of the bad tension and unwanted emotionality. They are so intertwined. Good tension is of course, good and healthy. It's a state the horse naturally enters into and out of all the time in a perfectly sane and thinking frame of mind, regardless of the difficulty of the movements asked. :yes:

I test for it in higher collection by a small request to Tam that he show me that he can release/relax the poll, even in piaffe or passage. If the answer is there to my question when I pose it to him, I know where he is at both mentally and physically. If there is resistence, then I'm not meeting his needs in that moment.

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