Equestrians often report that horses can play up or be difficult to handle. Whilst, anecdotally, handlers remark that horses are being naughty, leading equine behaviour research suggests otherwise. So, can horses truly be naughty or is there another explanation?
The horse-human relationship is an important part of equestrianism. Many riders think of this as a partnership and training is often orientated towards achieving a sense of harmony. Equines are considered to be very perceptive of their handlers and equestrians are commonly motivated in achieving a sense of affinity with the horse. So, how well attuned are horses and their handlers? What motivates equestrians, on a psychological level, to persevere in this relationship and what do they gain from it?
In comparison to feral horses, the range of behaviours exhibited by domestic horses has been substantially reduced. Domestic environments are less stimulating and present fewer opportunities for a horse to express its natural behaviour. However, providing environmental enrichment can encourage the horse to increase its expression of behaviours and also prevent abnormal behaviours.
Many people know that investing time in a relationship reaps countless rewards, but what kind of activities build relationships between horses and their caretakers? What does research say about the horse-human relationship and how can science be used to maximise that bond?
Group living and social interaction are important for horses. The benefits of herd living have been widely studied, particularly in relation to security and fight or flight behaviour, but how important is group cohesion to horses and how do they maintain it?
Traditional stables are a popular form of equine housing. Yet, many equine behaviourists think that stabling is not all it's cut out to be.
Play is a fundamental aspect of equine behaviour. Desire to play starts in early foal-hood and continues even in adulthood. It is an important aspect of development, with around 75% of the foal's time devoted to play. It is exhibited in a range of equids, from Asses to Zebras, and carries benefits, both physiological and psychological. So, how do equines play and why do they do it?
Louise Napthine is an Equine Behaviour Coach with a strong background in Science. She enjoys writing about current research in behaviour and welfare.