New Research: Horses Become Bolder With Age

A new study has shown that horses get bolder with age, but they don’t necessarily become more independent. These results indicate that boldness and independence are two separate traits, said Drs. Bibiana Burattini, Kate Fenner, Ashley Anzulewicz, Nicole Romness, Jessica McKenzie, Bethany Wilson and Paul McGreevy.

“Boldness” is an umbrella term to describe horses that are not shy, nervous or easily spooked, while “independence” is an individual’s ability to function without social support from other horses.

The study team used 1,940 responses to the Equine Behavior Assessment and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ), a 97-question study being used to develop a global database of horse behavior. The tool allows responders to benchmark their horses against thousands of others with regards to training, behavior and welfare. Respondents to this study came from 33 different countries; they represented 78 different breeds. In total, 58 percent of responders owner geldings and 38 percent owned mares; the rest owned stallions

The research team used the study responses to compare boldness and independence in horses with a horse’s age. They discovered that older horses that were started under-saddle at a young age were bolder and more independent than those horses started under tack at an older age. This was not surprising as the team noted that the shier horses may be started later in hopes that they would calm down as they matured. They also discovered that:

  • Australian Stock Horses were bolder and more independent than crossbreed horses
  • Brown and chestnut horses were less bold than bay horses
  • Dressage and therapy horses were less bold than those used for other disciplines
  • Stallions were bolder than geldings
  • Thoroughbreds and companion horses were less bold than crossbred horses
  • Heavy horses and ponies tended to be bolder
  • Working equitation horses were more independent that pleasure mount

The team concluded that boldness and independence are separate traits, and only boldness was associated with equine age. They suggested the increase in boldness may be related to the a horse’s accumulated exposure to various events and stimuli as it ages.

The team notes that understanding how age affects behavior can assist in matching a rider with a horse, as well as with projecting how a young horse will mature behaviorally.

Read the full study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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