Other horses in fear-eliciting situations have been found to experience a calming effect when in the presence of adapted horses.
Using Experienced Horses as Companions for Young Horses in Practice
Experienced horses often accompany young horses during potentially frightening situations, like trailer loading, as companions. However, studies of social transmission of adapted in horses are scarce.
The Danish Study: Investigating the Impact of Experienced Horse Demonstration
This study, conducted in Denmark, investigated if demonstration by an experienced horse influenced the willingness of young Icelandic horses to cross a novel surface. The young horses were given the opportunity to observe the experienced horse being led five times across a novel surface.
Methodology: Observing the Effect of Demonstration on Young Horses’ Willingness
Immediately afterwards, the young horses were given the opportunity to cross the novel surface themselves to obtain food on the other side. Controls were allowed to observe the experienced horse eating on the opposite side of the novel surface but not when the experienced horse crossed the novel surface.
Lower Heart Rate in Young Horses Observing Experienced Horses
All young horses succeeded in the task. Horses who observed the experienced horses crossing the novel surface, however, had significantly lower average and maximum heart rate compared to controls.
This result suggests that the demonstration has a calming effect. Trainers could implement horse calming techniques when training young horses in fear-eliciting situations.
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Summarized by: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota