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How does being ridden by different people affect horses’ responses to training?

Horse Riders Science Supplements

Riders differ in many aspects including skill, experience, gender, weight, height, and riding style. These differences likely impact on horses ridden by different riders and may result in training cues being applied inconsistently. When training and behavioral cues are delivered inconsistently, animals can demonstrate decreased responsiveness to training and develop subsequent undesirable behaviors. Horses exposed to many different riders have been shown to display behaviors such as rearing and bucking1. Increasing the understanding of human factors that impact on equine behavior is an important safety and equine welfare concern.

The impact of different riders on how horses respond to training cues for acceleration, deceleration and overall responsiveness was examined2. Data were collected for 1819 horses from E-BARQ (Equine Behaviour Assessment and Research Questionnaire), a global online survey of horse care givers (www.e-barq.com). E-BARQ collects information about behavior, training, management and covers both ridden and non-ridden aspects. Answers to specific questions relating to equine responsiveness and their responses to acceleration and deceleration cues were examined in this study. Data were then modelled against information detailing the number of riders/handlers that the horse was exposed to each month.

A total of 1322 respondents completed the survey for 1819 horses and were largely located in Australia (n = 562) and the US (n = 214). Most respondents described themselves as of ‘intermediate rider/horse handler’ standard (n = 873). 1094 of survey horses were male (1067 geldings) and 725 were female, and included 1064 purebred and 748 crossbred horses, covering 43 different disciplines, with dressage (n = 351) and pleasure riding (n = 349) being the most common. 77% of responses related to horses with a single rider/handler (n = 659) or two riders/handlers (n = 747). 15.57% of horses were regularly ridden/handled by 3 people (n = 229) with very few horses being regularly exposed to 4 or more riders/handlers.

Horses regularly exposed to multiple riders (more than two) were less responsive to acceleration cues than horses with fewer riders (P = 0.04) and more responsive to deceleration cues (P = 0.03). Data also indicated that older horses were more responsive to ridden cues than younger animals and that this was particularly evident in geldings (P = 0.04). Data was not collected relating to the health or workload of study horses and thus, study findings do not account for pain or fatigue potentially impacting on data. However, multiple riders and handlers may result in horses being exposed to inconsistent training cues, resulting in horses becoming less responsive. This may be significant in balancing equine welfare against exposure to multiple riders, their skill and experience.

References

1. Hockenhull, J. and Creighton, E. (2012). Equipment and training risk factors associated with ridden behaviour problems in UK leisure horses. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 137, 36–42.

2. McKenzie J, Fenner K, Hyde M, Anzulewicz A, Burattini B, Romness N, Wilson B, McGreevy P. (2021). Equine Responses to Acceleration and Deceleration Cues May Reflect Their Exposure to Multiple Riders. Animals. 11(1):66.Available HERE

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