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Training the trainers: How to minimize stress when horses are first ridden
Date:9/21/2010

The horse was domesticated many thousands of years ago and has been hugely important in the development of human civilization. It is hard to overstate its role in agriculture, in transport and communications and even in military operations. More recently, equestrian sports have gained markedly in popularity, so even though the horse has largely been superseded in modern farming and military practice its connection to man remains as close as ever.

Nevertheless, the horse retains at least some aspects of its wild origins. It is clear that horses are frequently subjected to situations that would be extremely stressful for genuinely wild animals, such as training of racehorses, performance in equestrian competitions, examinations by vets and transport by road. Indeed, all of these are known to be associated with stress reactions in horses. Even being ridden could represent a source of stress but there have to date been very few studies on this aspect. Recent work by Alice Schmidt in the group of Christine Aurich at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna has for the first time examined the stress suffered by young horses when they are trained to be ridden.

Schmidt measures stress by examining the horses' heartbeats and the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. In looking at heartbeats she considers not only their frequency but also the short-term fluctuations in intervals between the beats, which have previously been shown to be a good indicator for stress. Training of sports horses usually starts when the animals are three years old, so for her recent work Schmidt examined horses of this age at the start of their initial training regimes.

Perhaps not surprisingly, she found that the start of training was a stressful period. The initial work on the lunge caused only a moderate amount of stress but the stress level rose markedly when the rider first mounted. This was revealed by an immediate increase in hea
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Contact: Prof. Christine Aurich
christine.aurich@vetmeduni.ac.at
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna
Source:Eurekalert

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