Difficulty Assessing Equine Emotions Hinders Understanding Of Welfare

The difficulty of assessing a horse’s mental state was discussed at length at the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) in Wagga Wagga, Australia, in November. Though recent research has delved in to the negative moods of animals, Professor Natalie Waran said that physiological measures  like heart rate can reflect arousal more than emotional state, which is what is needed to help determine equine welfare. There is no physiological measure to distinguish between positive and negative emotions in the horse, reports HorseTalk.

Waran is adamant that identifying negative and positive emotions in horses is necessary to determine how different experiences and situations affect them. In the past, research used heart rate, cortisol and eye temperature, among others readings, to determine negative welfare of an animal. It is now recognized that the absence of stress or pain is not a good way to determine if a horse is under duress; to consider the whole-horse picture, positive experiences must also be taken into account.

Waran discussed with attendees the benefits of creating an Equine Quality of Life (EQoL) assessment, which would consider the balance of positive and negative emotions from a horse’s point of view. While Waran feels that he physiological indicators are useful, there are many other things that need to be considered for a horse to be “happy” emotionally.

As horses are prey animals, they must mask their negative emotional state for survival; this makes assessment of their emotional state challenging. Other indicators Waran recommended considering to determine welfare included behavioral changes that can be tied to negative emotion, like a reluctance for a normally happy horse to engage with his environment.

Studies have been completed that offer horses control over their environment, similar to the research completed in production-animal industries. Waran called for those caring for horses to see the world from a horse’s point of view to truly understand good welfare, not just checking physiological parameter boxes and thinking the horse is fine.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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