Habituated horses have been found to have a calming effect on conspecifics in fear-eliciting situations. In practice, experienced horses are often used as companions when young horses are introduced to potentially frightening situations, like loading onto a trailer. However, studies of social transmission of habituation in horses are scarce. This study investigated if demonstration by a habituated demonstrator horse influenced the willingness of young Icelandic horses ( n=22, 3 years old) to cross a novel surface. Observer horses ( n=11) were allowed to observe the similarly aged demonstrator horse being led five times across a novel surface. Immediately afterwards the observer horses were given the opportunity to cross the novel surface themselves to obtain food on the other side. Controls ( n=11) were allowed to observe the demonstrator eating on the opposite side of the novel surface but not the demonstration of crossing the novel surface. All observers and controls succeeded the task, but observers had significantly lower average and maximum heart rate, compared to controls. This result suggests a calming effect of the demonstration, which could be exploited for habituation training of horses in fear-eliciting situations.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||Aarhus University, Blichers Alle 20, 8830 Tjele, Denmark.Maria.VilainRorvang@anis.au.dk|
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