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Learning performances in young horses using two different learning tests

By E. K. Visser, C. G. van Reenen, M. B. H. Schilder, A. Barneveld, H. J. Blokhuis

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Abstract

To achieve optimal performance in equine sports as well as in leisure not only the physical abilities of the horse should be considered, but also the horse's personality. Besides temperamental aspects, like emotionality, or the horse's reactivity towards humans in handling situations, the learning ability of the horse is another relevant personality trait. To study whether differences in learning performance are consistent over time and whether individual learning performance differs between learning tests or is affected by emotionality, 39 young horses (Dutch Warmblood) were tested repeatedly in two learning tests. An aversive stimulus (AS) was used in one learning test (the avoidance learning test) and a reward was used in the other learning test (the reward learning test). During both learning tests behaviour as well as heart rate were measured. Each test was executed four times, twice when horses were 1 year of age, and twice when they were 2 years of age. Half of the horses received additional physical training from 6 months onwards. In both tests horses could be classified as either performers, i.e. completing the daily session, or as non-performers, i.e. returning to the home environment without having completed the daily session. There were some indications that emotionality might have caused non-performing behaviour, but these indications are not convincing enough to exclude other causes. Furthermore, there seem to be no simple relationships between measures of heart rate, behavioural responses putatively related to emotionality and learning performance. Horses revealed consistent individual learning performances within years in both tests, and in the avoidance learning test also between years. There was no significant correlation between learning performances in the avoidance learning test and the learning performances in the reward learning test. It is concluded that individual learning abilities are consistent over a short time interval for an avoidance learning test and a reward learning test and over a longer time for the avoidance learning test. Furthermore, results indicate that some horses perform better when they have to learn to avoid an aversive stimulus while others perform better when they are rewarded after a correct response. It is suggested that these differences may be relevant to design optimal individual training programmes and methods.

Date 2003
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 80
Issue 4
Pages 311-326
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/S0168-1591(02)00235-6
Language English
Author Address Division of Animal Sciences, Institute for Animal Science and Health, P.O. Box 65, NL-8200 AB Lelystad, Netherlands. e.k.visser@pv.agro.nl
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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal physiology
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Heart rate
  5. Horses
  6. Learning
  7. Mammals
  8. peer-reviewed
  9. performance
  10. racehorses
  11. Sport animals
  12. tests
  13. training
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  1. peer-reviewed