We investigated lateralisation in horses because it is likely to be important in training and athletic performance. Thoroughbred horses (n=106) were observed every 60 s for 2 h, when they were at pasture, and the position of the forelimbs in relation to one another was recorded. There was a population bias skewed to standing with the left forelimb advanced over the right (i.e. directional lateralisation). Using the first 50 observations, the distribution of preferences was 43 significantly left, 10 significantly right with 53 being non-significant (i.e. ambidextextrous). The strength of motor bias increased with age, suggesting maturation or an influence of training. The horses were also presented with an olfactory stimulus (stallion faeces) to score the tendency to use one nostril rather than the other. A significant preference to use the right nostril first was shown in horses under 4 years of age (n=61) but not in older horses. Of the 157 horses tested for nostril bias, 76 had been assessed for motor bias and so were used for analysis of the relationship between laterality in the two modalities. There was no significant relationship between direction of foreleg motor bias and first nostril used, total number of inhalations or laterality index of nostril use. The absence of a correlation between laterality of nostril use and motor bias indicates that lateralisation of the equine brain occurs on at least two levels of neural organisation - sensory and motor - a finding that is consistent with other examples of lateralisation in species that have been examined in more detail.
|Applied Animal Behaviour Science
|Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.firstname.lastname@example.org
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