Fair-weather mounts?

Polish researchers find a correlation between the weather and a horse's mood.
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If your horse seems a bit crankier on hot, windy days, it’s not just your imagination. A new study from Poland shows a correlation between equine moods and the weather.

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Researchers at the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland, analyzed the behavior of 16 Anglo-Arabian geldings during morning rides from July 1 to September 1. The exercise sessions took place at the same time each day, from 9 until 10 a.m., with the same riders. Between rides, the horses were kept under similar conditions and fed the same rations.

To gather data on the horses’ moods, riders gave a behavioral assessment of each horse after every exercise period, assigning points based on the horse’s willingness to work. For example, a score of “1” correlated to “Lethargic or overexcited, does not follow the rider’s orders” while a score of “5” indicated “Very willing to cooperate, reacts keenly yet calmly to the surrounding environment.” Independent observers focused on less subjective measures of behavior by documenting examples of obvious misbehavior, such as willful stopping, unprompted changes of direction or attempts to throw the rider.

Before and immediately after exercise each day, researchers recorded each horse’s heart rate, temperature and respiratory rate. In addition, the researchers measured and noted the air temperature, humidity, wind speed and atmospheric pressure just before and immediately after each ride.

The data showed that riders were more likely to report a poorer attitude and reduced willingness to work on the part of their horses when the wind speed was above 5.5 meters a second (about 12 miles per hour). This finding, says researcher Iwona Janczarek, PhD, isn’t surprising to most experienced horsemen. “Windy weather is associated with more intense sounds, to which horses are sensitive,” she says.

Riders were also more likely to rate their horses as unwilling during rides that occurred when the temperature was 26.5 degrees Celsius (79.7 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher. That may not seem too terribly hot to a horse owner in Texas but, according to Janczarek, it is quite warm in context: “Riding took place at 9 a.m.,” she says. “ A temperature about 26.5 degrees at that time in Poland is quite high and promises a hot day. We observed that horses in the hot day were more tired and sometimes irritable.” Humidity and atmospheric pressure did not have any effect on the horse’s reported moods in this study.

Interestingly, the findings of the independent observers did not always correlate with the impressions of the riders. Observers generally rated the horse’s mood and behavior as more positive than their riders did. “I think it could be related to the sensitivity of riders to their horses,” says Janczarek. “Each rider was assigned to one horse, so they got to know the horses well. From my experience, I know that if a rider knows her horse well, she can tell if he’s in a better or worse mood [than other people can].” 

Reference: “Correlations between the behavior of recreational horses, the physiological parameters and summer atmospheric conditions,” Animal Science Journal, December 2014 

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #452, May 2015.