The learning and cognitive challenges that horses may face differ according to the activities in which they are involved. The aim of this investigation was to study the influence of equine activities on the behavioral responses and autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity of adult horses. Forty-one horses were divided into four groups: dressage (9), jumping (10), eventing (13) and equine-assisted activity/therapy (9). A test was created to compare the horses’ behavioral and physiological responses to different stimuli. The goal was always to obtain a treat. To study the ANS activity, heart rate variability was assessed using the standard deviation of the R-R intervals (SDNN), square root of the mean of the sum of the squares of differences between successive interbeat-intervals (RMSSD) and low frequency/high frequency (LF/HF). To assess behavioral responses, video analysis was performed considering the following behaviors: exploration, interactions with another horse, and latency to approach. Significant differences in SDNN (DF = 3; F = 3.36; p = 0.0202), RMSSD (DF = 3; F = 4.09; p = 0.0078), LF/HF (DF = 3; F = 4.79; p = 0.0031), exploration (DF = 3; F = 5.79; p = 0.0013) and latency to approach (DF = 3; F = 8.97; p < 0.0001) were found among horses from different equine activities. The activity that adult horses practice appears to influence behavioral and physiological responses to different stimuli, thus impacting equine welfare.
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