Waran, N., Randle, H., Preshaw, L. et al. 2019. Through their eyes: the challenge of assessing equine emotional state. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 29, 151. (13th International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) Conference Abstract)

Animal welfare assessment has traditionally relied on measures of physical health and changes in behavior and physiology related to negative emotional states such as pain and stress. However, it is now widely accepted that good welfare is not simply the absence of disease or negative experiences, but also the presence of positive experiences such as pleasure. The development of an ‘Equine Quality of Life’ (EQoL) framework is essential for providing horse owners, riders and practitioners with an evidence-based instrument for assessing the overall life experience of horses. It is therefore necessary to be able to appraise both the physical and mental well-being of a horse in relation to situations and events that it experiences during its working lifetime. To date the emotional significance of the animal’s response has been overlooked. A seemingly objective physiological measures, heart rate, has have been found to reflect arousal level rather than emotional valence, and furthermore behavioral signs do not always reflect physiological responses. However, assessment of motivation to approach or avoid as in indicator of positive/negative response, as well as fear- and aggression responses may be better behavioral indicators of emotional state. Methods used in non-equid species such as cognitive bias testing have yet to be used successfully in horses. The characterization of equine emotional response in terms of arousal level and valence, using validated equine-based indicators can lead to the development of an Equine Quality of Life (EQoL) framework against which the impact of different situations and experiences on horses during their lives.

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