Limitations of Spatial Judgment Bias Test Application in Horses (Equus ferus caballus)
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Affective states are of increasing interest in the assessment of animal welfare. This research aimed to evaluate the possible limitations in the application of a spatial judgment bias test (JBT) in horses, considering the influence of stress level, personality traits, and the possible bias due to the test structure itself. The distinction between two positions, one rewarded (Positive) and the other not (Negative), was learned by 10 horses and 4 ponies,. Then, the latency to reach three unrewarded ambiguous positions (Near Positive, Middle, Near Negative) was measured. Furthermore, the validated Equine Behavior Assessment and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ) was employed to assess personality traits. Fecal and hair cortisol levels were measured through radioimmunoassay (RIA), and the frequency of behavioral stress indicators was recorded. Results showed that horses that had the rewarded position (Positive) on the right approached Near Negative and Middle faster than those that had Positive on the left. Certain personality traits influenced the latency to reach Middle and Near Positive, but chronic stress did not seem to affect horses’ judgment bias. This preliminary study highlighted several limitations in the employment of spatial JBT for the assessment of affective state in horses and that personality traits can partially influence the cognitive process. Further research is needed to refine the use of this test in horses, considering the peculiarities both of species and of individuals.
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