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Responses of horses to novel visual, olfactory and auditory stimuli

By J. W. Christensen, L. J. Keeling, B. L. Nielsen

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Responses of horses towards fear-eliciting stimuli can have important consequences for both human and horse safety. This experiment was designed to investigate behavioural and heart rate (HR) responses of horses to novel visual, auditory and olfactory stimuli. Twenty-four 2-year-old, previously unhandled, stallions were habituated to receive a food reward from a container in a test arena. Each horse was exposed to three 2 min tests in a balanced design where in addition to the feed container, either a traffic cone (visual test), white noise (auditory test) or eucalyptus oil applied to the inside of the container (olfactory test) were used as the novel stimuli. Compared to the control, less time was spent eating during all tests. There was no difference in locomotion activity in the different test situations, but presentation of the novel visual and auditory stimuli elicited significantly increased HR responses in the horses, compared to their response to the arena without novel stimuli (control), whereas there was no increase in HR response to the olfactory stimulus. However, during the olfactory test, the horses had an increased number of eating bouts and became more vigilant towards their surroundings, whereas during the visual and auditory tests, more time was spent alert towards the stimulus. The horses also took significantly more steps backwards in response to the auditory test. The heart rate responses correlated between tests and reflect a non-differentiated activation of the sympathetic nervous system, while the behavioural responses were linked to the type of stimulus.

Date 2005
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 93
Issue 1/2
Pages 53-65
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address Department of Animal Environment and Health, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, P.O. Box 234, Skara, Sweden.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal physiology
  3. Fear
  4. Heart rate
  5. Horses
  6. Mammals
  7. olfaction
  8. peer-reviewed
  9. sounds
  10. stimuli
  1. peer-reviewed