Horses are one of the most dangerous animals veterinarians have to work with. For many
veterinary students, their first exposure to horses occurs during practical classes. To evaluate the
level of knowledge students have of equine behaviour and their equine handling competency when
entering the programme, 214 veterinary students (1st and 4th year) were recruited to participate
in a questionnaire. Participants were asked to choose one out of 12 terms that best represented
the aective state of a horse in a picture, and to self-assess their equine handling skills. Half (n =
56/115) of the first-year students correctly interpreted the horse’s behaviour. The majority had (1) a
poor understanding of equine learning mechanisms and (2) poor self-rated equine handling skills.
A history of pet ownership (p = 0.027) and the presence of horses on their family property (p = 0.001)
were significantly associated with a correct understanding of equine behaviour. Fourth-year students
were three times more likely to accurately interpret the horse’s behaviour (p = 0.01) and rated their
handling skills higher than first-year students (p = 0.006). These results suggest that previous animal
experience confers a considerable advantage to interpret equine behaviour and highlight the critical
importance of practical training in the veterinary programme.