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.
Reference: “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, April 2016.