Endurance horses are considered subject to a unique set of training and competing pressures due to the long distances travelled. The health and welfare of these horses could be compromised if they have not been adequately trained or are pushed beyond their limits, and there are increasing concerns regarding the capacity of horses to cope with the exercise demands placed on them, with high elimination rates for lameness and metabolic reasons. Veterinary inspections during these rides are important for assessing physiological measures, but the inclusion of behavioural assessments is also warranted. We investigated the application of Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA) as a method for assessing demeanour in horses engaged in a 160-km endurance ride. We used a Free Choice Profiling (FCP) methodology to analyse footage of 10 horses collected during veterinary inspection (1) pre-ride, (2) midway through and (3) at the end of the ride. FCP allows each individual observer to develop his/her own unique set of descriptive terms for scoring the behavioural expression of animals. Observers (n = 22) reached consensus in their assessment of the behavioural expression of the 10 horses (P < 0.001). The first dimension of behavioural expression was characterised by terms such as ‘calm’, ‘content’ and ‘relaxed’ contrasting with ‘agitated’, ‘angry’ and ‘annoyed’. Scores on this dimension did not differ between the three time points (P = 0.372), but did demonstrate significant individual differences (P = 0.004). This dimension may capture individual responses to the veterinary inspection procedures or the general endurance environment. On the second dimension, observers scored animals as more ‘alert’, ‘curious’ and ‘excited’ pre-ride and more ‘tired’, ‘lazy’ and ‘sleepy’ mid-ride and at the end of the ride (P = 0.001), which seems to indicate a more general effect of the race on the horses’ state. There were also significant differences between individual horses on this behavioural dimension (P = 0.028). Interestingly, the behavioural assessment scores attributed to horses pre-ride on dimension 2 were correlated with the horse’s final ride place (P < 0.01), suggesting that observers detected behavioural expressions reflecting the horses’ interest in the event. These results support the potential of QBA as a useful tool for evaluating horses’ emotional and attitudinal response to endurance events.
Fleming, P. A., Paisley, C. L., Barnes, A. L., & Wemelsfelder, F. (2013). Application of Qualitative Behavioural Assessment to horses during an endurance ride. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 144(1), 80-88.