Researchers in Japan are close to identifying a gene that may make some horses easier to handle than others.
Working at Kyoto University, researchers first assessed the tractability of 167 Thoroughbreds at a race training center using questionnaires filled out by their handlers. Then they did a genetic analysis of each horse, focusing on a serotonin receptor gene known to be associated with anxiety-related traits in several other species. Serotonin is a neuro-transmitter that affects mood and social behavior.
The researchers found a significant association between one of the variations in the serotonin receptor gene and lower tractability in horses, most commonly in fillies. They conclude that this gene may play a role in a horse’s trainability and its effect may be partially dependent on the gender of the horse.
“Evidence for the effect of serotonin receptor 1A gene (HTR1A) polymorphism on tractability in Thoroughbred horses,” Animal Genetics.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #463, June 2016.