Study: Horses Could have Greater Trust in Familiar Riders
Editor's note: This article is part of TheHorse.com's ongoing coverage of topics presented at the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
It can be a nerve-wracking experience for some riders, but when you hand your horse over to another rider, do not fear. At least, according to new study results, you don't need to fear for him. The researchers found that horses that are used to just one rider don't appear to be any more stressed or afraid of new things if they're mounted by a different rider; they might, however, be less cooperative.
"Many owners state that they share a very special bond with their horse, and I would certainly be one of them," said Uta König von Borstel, PhD, equitation scientist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who oversaw the field work of Nora Krienert, MSc. "Our research indicates that horses might have greater trust, but not less fear, when they're with familiar riders." König von Borstel presented the research at the 8th International Society for Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
König von Borstel and Kreinert employed three different types of horses in their research:
New obstacles or objects were placed in the riding arena. Each of the 47 horses was ridden past or over these obstacles once under its regular rider (or one of its regular riders in the case of the club horses) and twice under two different riders that the horse didn't know. The tests were run in random order to prevent habituation from affecting the results.
The team measured the horses' heart rates, behavior, and time to approach the objects during the three tests. They also measured the riders' heart rates.
Upon reviewing their results, the team found:
In regards to the heart rate differentials, König von Borstel said this could be simply a physical connection, in that the rider might be working harder to control a more excited horse. However, it can't be denied that there might be a psychological connection as well, she said.
"Some of these results could just be an indication of different personality types, or even just an effort of the horses to try to get away with not having to approach the object because they don't want to," König von Borstel said. "But our findings could also be interpreted as horses having a greater trust in their (regular) riders. They may be less fearful with a familiar rider, but they don't show that in their behavior."
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