The ability of horses to habituate to frightening stimuli greatly increases safety in the horse-human relationship. A recent experiment suggested, however, that habituation to frightening visual stimuli is relatively stimulus-specific in horses and that shape and colour are important factors for object generalisation (Christensen et al., 2008). In a series of experiments, we aimed to further explore the ability of horses (n=30, 1 and 2-year-old mares) to recognise and generalise between objects during habituation. TEST horses (n=15) were habituated to a complex object, composed of five simple objects of varying shape and colour, whereas CONTROL horses (n=15) were habituated to the test arena, but not to the complex object. In the first experiment, we investigated whether TEST horses subsequently reacted less to (i) simple objects that were previously part of the complex object (i.e. testing for object recognition) and (ii) a novel object (new shape and colour, i.e. testing for object generalisation), compared to CONTROLS. In the second experiment we investigated whether TEST horses reacted to a change in object order and object location. Behavioural reactions to the object, latency to eat, total eating time and heart rate were recorded. Compared to CONTROLS, TEST horses reacted significantly less towards objects, which were previously part of the complex object (e.g. mean heart rate; P=0.006), indicating object recognition. In contrast to our expectations, TEST horses also reacted significantly less towards the novel object (e.g. mean heart rate; P=0.018), suggesting that they were capable of object generalisation. We also found that TEST horses showed an increase in exploratory behaviour when objects within the complex object changed order and location (both P<0.001), whereas there was no increase in heart rate, indicating that the horses were not frightened by the changes. The results demonstrate that it is possible to increase object generalisation in horses by habituating them to a range of colours and shapes simultaneously. This knowledge greatly affects the way in which horses may be trained to react calmly towards frightening objects.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||Department of Animal Health and Bioscience, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Aarhus University, Blichers Alle 20, P.O. Box 50, 8830 Tjele, Denmark. JanneWinther.Christensen@agrsci.dk|
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