Bell, C., Rogers, S., Taylor, J. et al. 2019. Improving the recognition of equine affective states. Animals 9(12), 1124.

A key welfare problem for horses is that people commonly fail to recognise, and consequently neglect to resolve, equine behavioural signs of distress, worsening the welfare of the horse and potentially putting the safety of the handler at risk as a result. Members of equestrian Facebook groups were asked to view six videos and assess the horse’s behaviour in each; the authors selected the videos and considered each video to demonstrate behaviour associated with negative affective states. An additional six equine behaviourists also completed the survey as an “expert comparison group” from whom we could define “correct” answers; their responses were consistent with each other and the views of the authors. Although the majority of respondents successfully recognised behaviour indicative of distress in some instances, behaviour associated with negative affective states was commonly missed; videos featuring natural horsemanship and bridle-less riding were particularly interpreted incorrectly to be positive experiences for the horses. Binary logistic regression analysis (72.1% success rate) confirmed that the different video types (ridden dressage, natural horsemanship, in-hand dressage, bridle-less riding, Western reining and behavioural rehabilitation) were strong predictors for obtaining a correct answer (p < 0.01) but that experience of equine-ownership was not. Of the equestrian activities preferred by participants, only proponents of clicker training showed an increased likelihood of obtaining the correct answer (p = 0.05). Even when behavioural signs suggestive of negative affective states were recognised, a minority of respondents stated that they would be happy for their horse to be treated similarly. In conclusion, behavioural signs of equine distress are poorly recognised; they therefore warrant an increased prominence in education and the outreach activity of welfare organisations, in order to reduce equine suffering.

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