Océane Liehrmann et at published their new horse behaviour study in Applied Animal Behaviour ScienceAugust 2, 2022
Despite numerous studies emerging on the human-horse relationship, significant gaps exist in the identification of the horse and handler factors that influence the quality of their relationship. Here, we explore key factors affecting human-animal relationships: the number of regular handlers an animal has, their Length of the relationship with the handler, number of owner changes, and the handler familiarity. A total of 76 horses participated in two novel object tasks to determine whether horses react differently to novel situations depending on whether they are handled by a familiar or an unfamiliar person. We observed that having multiple regular handlers negatively affected the horse reluctance toward the novel surfaces (estimate ± SE = 1.90 ± 0.64, Z= 2.98, P = 0.003) and novel object (estimate ± SE = 0.94 ± 0.47, Z= 2.01, P = 0.044). In horses used to be handled by only one person, 75% were non-reluctant toward the surfaces while 68% of the horses handled multiple persons showed reluctant behaviours. Similarly, only 13% of the horses with only one regular handler refused to be touched with a novel object while 26% of the horse with multiple regular handlers refused to be touched with the object. The relationship length between the horse and the familiar handler decreased the horse reluctance toward the novel surfaces (estimate ± SE = -0.27 ± 0.14. Z= -1.93. P = 0.054) and novel object (estimate ± SE = -0.15 ± 0.07, Z= -2.14, P = 0.033). The longer the relationship the less reluctant were the horses. Horses sold more than once were more reluctant to the object (estimate ± SE = -1.09 ± 0.49, Z= -2.20, P = 0.028). Those horses had higher chances to refuse to be touched with the novel object than the horses still owned by their breeder or their first buyer. Finally, older horses (> 18 yo) had higher success at walking on the surface when led by someone familiar (87%) compared to led by someone unfamiliar (15%) (estimate ± SE = 2.55 ± 1.05, t= 2.43, P = 0.016). Our findings suggest that the horse-human relationship may take time to develop as it is shaped by multiple factors involving the horse’s previous and current interactions with humans that affect their everyday life.
Liehrmann O., Viitanen A., Riihonen V., Alander E., Koski S.E., Lummaa V., Lansade L. (2022) Multiple handlers, several owner changes and short relationship lengths affect horses’ responses to novel object tests. Applied Animal Behavious Science.