SORT­ING OUT WHAT SNORT­ING MEANS

EQUUS - - Medical Front -

New re­search from France sug­gests that snort­ing is a sign of con­tent­ment in horses.

Re­searchers at Univer­sity of Rennes-Caen Nor­mandie ob­served 48 horses kept in four dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments. Half of the horses lived at com­mer­cial rid­ing schools. They were used for rid­ing lessons, fed twice a day and turned out four to six hours daily. The re­main­ing horses were kept on con­tin­ual turnout, fed free-choice hay and rid­den for plea­sure oc­ca­sion­ally. Th­ese two en­vi­ron­ments, the re­searchers say, rep­re­sent op­po­site points on a spec­trum ex­tend­ing from highly re­stricted liv­ing to a nat­u­ral life­style.

The re­searchers ob­served each of the horses in fiveminute in­ter­vals at var­i­ous times through­out the day, both when they were alone and when they were near other horses. The rid­ing school horses were each ob­served in their stalls as well as dur­ing turnout.

Dur­ing the ob­ser­va­tion pe­ri­ods, the re­searchers doc­u­mented the types of noises/ vo­cal­iza­tions the horses made, what they were do­ing at the time they made them and their ap­par­ent emo­tional states. They also as­signed each horse a to­tal chronic stress score (TCSS) based on the num­ber of ag­gres­sive re­ac­tions, stereo­typic be­hav­iors, time spent with ears back while eat­ing and the per­cent of time spent fac­ing the wall when in a stall.

At the out­set of the study, the re­searchers dis­tin­guished snorts from sim­i­lar­sound­ing res­pi­ra­tory events: “The ‘snore’ is a very short raspy in­hala­tion sound pro­duced in a low alert con­text, such [as] in­ves­ti­gat­ing a novel ob­ject or ob­sta­cle .... The ‘blow’ cor­re­sponds to a short very in­tense non­pulsed ex­ha­la­tion through the nos­trils and is gen­er­ally

as­so­ci­ated with vig­i­lance/ alarm pos­tures) … the ‘snort’ cor­re­sponds to a more or less pulsed sound pro­duced by nos­tril vi­bra­tions while ex­puls­ing the air, with a slightly longer du­ra­tion in com­par­i­son to the blow.”

The data re­vealed that snorts were usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with pos­i­tive sit­u­a­tions, such as feed­ing, and with pos­i­tive in­ter­nal states, such as the horse hav­ing his ears for­ward. The horses who lived on pas­ture snorted twice as much as did the rid­ing school horses. In ad­di­tion, the latter group snorted more of­ten when turned out than when con­fined to their stalls. The fre­quency of snorts was neg­a­tively cor­re­lated with TCSS; horses with a high stress score pro­duced fewer snorts.

The re­searchers note that the re­sults rule out snort­ing as purely a hy­gienic func­tion to clear the nos­trils, par­tic­u­larly since horses snorted less of­ten in the dustier, in­door en­vi­ron­ments. In­stead, they con­clude, “snorts ap­pear [to be] a pos­si­ble re­li­able in­di­ca­tor of pos­i­tive emo­tions which could help iden­tify sit­u­a­tions ap­pre­ci­ated by horses.” Ref­er­ence: “An un­ex­pected acous­tic in­di­ca­tor of pos­i­tive emo­tions in horses,” PLOS One, July 2018

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