Does Horse Temperament Influence Horse–Rider Cooperation?

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  • JOURNAL OFAPPLIEDANIMALWELFARE SCIENCE,11:267284, 2008Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1088-8705 print/1532-7604 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10888700802101254

    Does Horse Temperament InfluenceHorseRider Cooperation?

    E. Kathalijne Visser,1 Cornelis G. Van Reenen,1

    Mari Zetterqvist Blokhuis,2 E. Karin M. Morgan,2

    Peter Hassmn,3 T. Margareta M. Rundgren,4

    and Harry J. Blokhuis51Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen University and Research Centres,

    Lelystad, The Netherlands2Ridskolan Strmsholm, Stockholm, Sweden

    3Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Sweden4Department of Animal Nutrition and Management, Swedish University

    of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden5Department of Animal Environment and Health, Swedish University of

    Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden

    Cooperation between rider and horse is of major importance in equitation. A bal-anced team of horse and rider improves (sport) performances and welfare aspectsby decreasing stress, frustration, risks of injuries, and accidents. Important featuresaffecting the cooperation are the physical skills, knowledge, and personality ofthe rider on one hand and the temperament, experience, and physical abilities ofthe horse on the other. A study with 16 riders and 16 warm-blood riding horsestested the effect of personality of riders and temperament of horses on cooperationbetween riders and horses. More emotionally reactive horses showed more evasivebehavior during riding. Riders preferred to ride those horses who were assessed bythe riders as being attentive to the riders aid. The frequency of evasive behaviorsduring ridingas assessed by riders, in contrast to the assessments made by anexternal judgeinfluenced the cooperation between rider and horse. On average, ariders personality did not affect the cooperation between rider and horse; however,it is suggested that a riders personality does affect the cooperation with moreemotionally reactive horses.

    Correspondence should be sent to Kathalijne Visser, Animal Sciences Group of WageningenUniversity and Research Centre, P.O. Box 65, NL 8200 AB Lelystad, The Netherlands.


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    The relationship between horse and rider is interactive and complex (Visser et al.,2003). Whereas success in most competitive sports depends solely upon humandecisions and responses, the successful completion of a task in equestrian sportsdepends on the human-horse interaction and their cooperation.

    The value of a horse largely depends on how the horse-rider team performs,either in sports or in leisure. Only limited data are available on longevity ofhorses. In Sweden, the life expectancy of warm-blood horses was 15 years forgeldings and stallions and 18 years for mares (Wallin, Strandberg, Philipsson, &Dahlin, 2000). The average age of horses being culled in the slaughterhouse inMunich between 1974 and 1982 was only 8.5 years (Von Butler & Armbruster,1984). It has been suggested that behavioral problems might be responsible for alarge part of these cullings (dberg & Bouissou, 2000). Behavioral problems canmanifest themselves during housing, handling, and/or riding. Horses exposed toinadequate housing have a high risk for developing stereotypies.

    Major causes of the development of stereotypies are the restricted space,lack of roughage, and the isolated way of housing horses in modern systems(Broom & Kennedy, 1993; McGreevy, Cripps, French, Green, & Nicol, 1995;Mills, Alston, Rogers, & Longford, 2002; Redbo, Redbo-Torstensson, dberg,Hedendahl, & Holm, 1998). The problems encountered during handling andriding stem, for the most part, from a misunderstanding or miscommunicationbetween rider and horse. Inappropriate handling techniques, especially those thatcause flight responses or evasive behavior, account for much of the wastage ratesamong horses as well as the majority of the deaths and injuries among handlers(Warren-Smith & McGreevy, 2005).

    This interaction and communication depends partly on how experienced andskillful the rider or handler is to respond and interplay with the horses behaviorand partly on the horses behavioral reactions toward challenging situations. Intraining young horses it is, for example, very important to use learning theorycorrectly, in other words, correct timing and consistent responses and signals(McLean & McGreevy, 2006). The interaction is obviously also affected byinternal factors like temperament of the horse and personality of the rider; it iswell known that some riders just fit some horses better than other horses, evenat top competition level.

    Horse temperament has been an increasing topic of interest in researchover the last decade. Horse temperament has been assessed qualitatively andquantitatively both by using rating scores from assessors and by performingbehavioral tests, although it has been questioned whether some aspects of thesemethods provide a true picture of the horses temperament (McCall, Hall, McEl-henney, & Cummins, 2006; Seaman, Davidson, & Waran, 2002). In general,these methods have proved to be feasible and useful in practice. To evaluatethe horses temperament qualitatively, familiar and unfamiliar persons (riders,trainers, handlers, and judges) have been used as assessors. The situation and


    condition in which a horse is being assessed is of major importance to theoutcome. In order to get a full picture of the horses temperament, the horseneeds to be challenged in many different ways. Another way of measuring horsetemperament is by the use of behavioral tests, in which horses are challenged toshow their responsiveness and motivations. These tests are being used in manyanimals on the farm and in the laboratory and have been adapted to accommodatethe horses specific behavioral repertoire and responses. The advantage of usingbehavioral tests is that these can be carried out in a more standardized waycompared with assessment made subjectively. However, it is more work toperform these tests and to analyze the raw data. Although individual scientistshave used slightly different methods, the major aspects of temperament that havebeen measured using these tests are emotional reactivity, reactions to humanhandling, and learning abilities.

    The performance in riding is influenced by a large number of variablessuch as the riders balance, body awareness, and personality (Meyners, 2004).Personality can be conceptualized in many ways, although the trait psychologyperspective stemming from the work of Allport and Odbert (1936) has success-fully been applied in sport settings. Trait characteristics such as self-esteem,perfectionism, locus of control, and sense of coherence have been shown toaffect sport performance to varying degrees (Fallby, Hassmn, Kentt, & Durand-Bush, 2006; Koivula, Hassmn, & Fallby, 2002). It has also been shown thatelite competitors in dressage and show jumping exhibited significantly higheranxiety management and concentration skills than subelite athletes. These find-ings are consistent with results from personality research on competitors in othersports (Meyers, Bourgeois, LeUnes, & Murray, 1999). Evaluating the interactionbetween horse and rider remains a very subjective task. In competition, it isexpected that a good horse-rider combination will perform better in terms offinal ranking. However, judges often show a high level of disagreement onthe performance of horse-rider combinations (Starchurska, Pieta, Niewczas, &Markowski, 2006).

    To our knowledge, there has only been one study in which subjective assess-ment of horse performance during a standardized dressage tests has been studied(De Cartier dYves & dberg, 2005). During this study, four dressage judgesassessed the horse performance for using eight dressage criteria. However, thesecriteria mainly focused on horse movements rather than on cooperation betweenrider and horse. So our questions were as follows: Do external judges agree oncooperation matters? Is the judges score of cooperation between horse and riderin concordance with the riders assessment of this cooperation? What influencesthese scores?

    In equitation, trainers and riders generally use nonscientific terms. However,data suggest that qualified equestrian instructors frequently use terms that orig-inated in behavioral science but confuse their exact meaning (Warren-Smith

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    & McGreevy, 2008). Several descriptors may be used for the same behavior,depending on the observer (Mills, 1998).

    Although various aspects of horse behavior and temperament have beenstudied (Visser, 2002; Waring, 1983), horse behavior while being ridden has onlyrarely been investigated (Rivera, Benjamin, Nielsen, Shelle, & Zanella, 2002;Weeks & Beck, 1996; Zetterqvist Blokhuis, Hartmann, Aronsson, Van Reenen, &Keeling, 2007). Although not systematically investigated and validated, scientistsuse a range of evasive behaviors to show stress in horses while being ridden(Goodwin, 1999). Evasive behavior results from a conflict situation in the horseand is a set of responses of varying duration that is usually characterizedby hyperreactivity and arise largely through confusion (McGreevy, McLean,Warren-Smith, Waran, & Goodwin, 2005). These behaviors include head tossing,head shaking, tail wringing, tail swishing, and defecating (Kaiser, Heleski,Siegford, & Smith, 2006; McGreevy et al., 2005). Other evasive behaviors thathave been used are rearing, bucking, and backing (De Cartier dYves & dberg,2005).

    This study aims to investigate the relation between aspects of the horsestemperament and estimates of the horse-rider cooperation by riders and anexternal judge. We also looked at how the assessment of riders and the externaljudge related. Moreover, the relation between some aspects of riders personalityon this cooperation was studied.


    Horses and Riders

    This study was performed at the National Equestrian Centre Strmsholm inSweden. The experiment was approved by the Animal Care and Use committeeof the Animal Sciences Group of Wageningen University and Research Centersin The Netherlands.

    Sixteen horses (ages 515 years; 4 mares and 12 geldings) were selectedfor this study. Horses were housed in individual stables or stands at the ridingschool. They were ridden daily and were turned out on a daily basis. Horseswere fed concentrates and roughage according to age and exercise level; waterwas available ad libitum.

    Sixteen equestrian students (between 21 and 27 years of age, 2 men and14 women) of the National Equestrian Centre volunteered to participate inthe study. The students were in their 2nd year of study and had reached anelementary level in dressage and 1.10 m level in show jumping. Student riderswere not familiar with the horses at the start of the experiment.


    Testing for Temperament Using Behavioral Tests

    Horses were tested for temperament using a novel object test and a handlingtest. For the novel object test, horses were equipped with a heart rate measuringdevice (Polar Vantage) in their stables. After a resting heart rate of 2 min wastaken, a familiar handler led the horse into a familiar indoor arena and left thehorse in a so-called starting box in a corner of the arena. After being left tosettle down for approximately 2 min, the horse was released out of the startingbox through an automatic sliding door and was free to move in the indoor arena.After 2 min, an open blue and white umbrella was lowered from the ceiling.The horses behavior was videotaped during the 2 min before, and 5 min after,exposure to the umbrella. Thereafter, the horse was caught, brought back to thestable, and the heart rate device was disconnected.

    For the handling test, the horse was also equipped with the heart rate mea-suring device (Polar Vantage). After recording a baseline heart rate in the stable,the horse was led by one familiar handler into the indoor arena where the horsewas encouraged to follow the handler walking over some plywood plates (2 4 m) lying on the floor. Horses were not forced to follow, but the handler kept aslight tension on the lead rope in order to guide the horse to go forward. Whenhorses reared, shied, or went backward, another attempt was made. Each horsewas allowed to make a maximum of three attempts.

    Both tests were videotaped, and tapes were analyzed using the Observersoftware system (Version 4.1). Behavioral measures scored in the novel-objecttest and handling tests are shown in Tables 1 and 2. For more details on executionof the tests and the measures that were recorded, see Visser et al. (2001) andVisser et al. (2002).

    Testing for Riders Personality

    Each rider filled in a questionnaire in order to establish a personality profile.The personality profile included the following conventional psychological tests:LOC (Locus of Control); SOC (Sense of Coherence); SCAT (Sport CompetitionAnxiety Test); SE (Self-Esteem); and SC (Self-Consciousness).

    The tests were selected from a number of tests that have been used forstudying athletes in other studies (Fallby et al., 2006; Koivula et al., 2002).Twoof the tests, LOC and SOC, were selected for further analysis based on theirability to measure the control concept.

    The I-E Locus of Control Scale (LOC) was developed by Rotter (1966)and consists of 23 test items and 6 filler items (total 29 items). A high LOCscore means that the person believes external forces control the situation (anexternal locus of control) whereas a low score means that the person believes

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    TABLE 1

    List of Variables in Horses Recorded in the Novel Object Test

    With Adult Horses (N D 16)

    Variable Definition

    SNa Snorting (forceful expulsion of air through the nostrils incidentally preceded by araspy inhalation sound)

    FNOb Focused on the novel object (ears, eyes, and head pointed in direction of novel object)HLb Head low (horse held its nose below its belly line)LTNOb Latency time to touch the novel object for the first timeTCb Percentage of time trotting and canteringTUb Percentage of time tail up (tail root above horizontal line)HRNO Mean heart rate during NO exposureHRVNO Heart rate variability (rMSSD) during NO exposure

    aFrequency. bPercentage of total time.

    TABLE 2

    List of Variables in Horses Recorded in the Handling Test

    With Adult Horses (N D 16)

    Variable Definition

    NTa Total number of attempts needed to cross the bridgeRBa Reluctance behavior (pawing, rearing, striking, head shaking, walking sideways,

    pulling backwards) while approaching the bridgeSSBb Percentage of time standing still in front of the bridgeHRHAN Mean heart rate during approach and bridge crossingHRVHAN Heart rate variability (rMSSD) during approach and bridge crossing

    aFrequency. bPercentage of total time.

    the outcome of the result depends on how one interacts and affects the situation(internal locus of control).

    The Sense of Coherence Scale (SOC), consisting of 29 questions, measures,according to Antonovsky (1987, 1993), to what degree the respondents perceivet...


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