Watson, J., McDonnell, S. 2016. Effects of three non-confrontational handling techniques on the behavior of horses during a simulated mildly aversive veterinary procedure. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 15, 85-86. (12th International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) Conference Abstract)

During mildly aversive healthcare procedures, horses often exhibit behaviors that may interrupt or prolong the procedure. Handler response often includes increased restraint and/or positive punishment, which can be ineffective or counterproductive. The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of 3 non-confrontational handling techniques (scratching WITHERS, rubbing EYES, or FEEDing grain vs. no intervention CONtrol) in a simulated mildly aversive veterinary procedure. In a between-subjects design, 48 horse and pony mares and geldings were randomly assigned to each of the 4 conditions. The scenario included social isolation and confinement in a clinical environment, with a 3-minute exposure to a noxious novel auditory stimulus. Sessions were video recorded for quantitative behavior evaluation. Heart rate (HR) was telemetrically recorded at 5-second intervals (Polar ProTrainer 5 Equine). Mean (se) avoidance/stress response frequency was 13.7(3.2) for FEED, 26.9(2.7) for EYES, 30.4(5.2) for WITHERS, and 44.2(5.3) for CON. FEED, EYES and WITHERS each significantly differed from CON (F3,44 = 8.72, P < 0.0001, Dunnett’s 2-sided follow-up multiple comparisons with control, P < 0.05). Mean (se) average HR and ending HR, respectively, were 73.7(4.8) and 68.8(5.7) for EYES, 75.3(5.4) and 71.7(5.9) for FEED, 84.7(9.2) and 80.3(10.2) for CON, and 92.5(8.1) and 80.8(10.1) for WITHERS. Differences were not significant (F3,44 = 1.73 and 0.51, P > 0.10). We conclude that each of these 3 non-confrontational handling techniques effectively reduced problematic avoidance/stress responses in this simulated veterinary care scenario, and a best technique may be identified empirically for any given horse and specific situation.

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