What a horse likes to eat: how to test dietary preferences
When humans are given a choice of food, we usually go for the best-tasting option. Animals also have a preference in which food they eat, although theirs is not based on taste necessarily, but on nutritional value. This choice feeding can be used to learn more about an animal’s nutritional needs and dietary preferences. However, in animals such as horses, there is a long gut transit time, which means that the horse may have difficulty making the connection between which chosen food has which nutritional consequence. So what can be done about this? Redgate and colleagues looked into the addition of a monadic phase (a phase in which only one food was offered at a time instead of all of the options) to choice testing. For this study, researchers wanted to see how a monadic training phase would impact the horse’s choice of food and if voluntary intake and feeding behavior would be influenced if the energy content was constant, but the macronutrient diet was different. Read more...
Combining physiology and behavior to create a stress scale for horses
We all are familiar with stress, and how it can have an impact not only on our behavior, but on our bodies and physiology as well. Many people get stress headaches or start to feel sick if they reach high levels of stress. However, most studies use scales which focus on behavioral scores for animals and don’t account for the physiological responses to stress. Young et al.’s goal was to create a scale that could rapidly and reliably measure stress in domestic stable horses while integrating both behavioral and physiological measures. Read more...
Horse training methods
Nowadays there are many different methods to train a horse. Looking at equitation sciences, it seems you can distinguish at least two different training strategies applied and investigated. First, there is the ‘natural’ way of horsemanship that allows the horse to evaluate action and reaction. This is often claimed to be the “new” way, but it actually seems based on very ancient methods. The other extreme is horsemanship that is based on desensitizing or ‘overruling’ of the animal. Read more...
Equitation sciences: behavioral research, physiology and biomechanics
Current research can be summarized in three aspects: Behavior, biomechanics, and physiology.
- Behavior is fairly easy to study. Two focus areas include problem behavior (e.g. in the stables, during handling, during loading onto a trailer, etc.) and behavior during training or competition. Of course, behavioral measurements can be taken of both horse and handler/rider.
- Biomechanical interaction between the horse and rider can be investigated with the use of strain gauges on bits, rains, and stirrups and force sensors on saddle pads and the rider’s legs.
- Physiological measures, mostly to indicate stress and/or strain include heart rate and heart rate variability, cortisol levels (fecal and saliva), skin and eye temperature, and plasma serotonin levels for the horse. Human measures are mainly limited to heart rate and heart rate variability. Questionnaires are an optional tool for supplemental information.
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