MED­I­CAL FRONT

EQUUS - - Contents -

• Fair-weather mounts?

• Re­lief from head­shak­ing

• How Cush­ing’s syn­drome may af­fect im­mu­nity

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.

Re­searchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Life Sciences in Lublin, Poland, an­a­lyzed the be­hav­ior of 16 An­gloAra­bian 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].”

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