Human preferences for certain morphological attributes among domestic animals may be entirely individual or, more generally, may reflect evolutionary pressures that favor certain conformation. Artificial selection for attributes, such as short heads and crested necks of horses, may have functional and welfare implications because there is evidence from other species that skull shape co-varies with behaviour. Crested necks can be accentuated by flexion of the neck, a quality that is often manipulated in photographs vendors use when selling horses. Equine head-and-neck positions acquired through rein tension can compromise welfare. Our investigation was designed to identify conformations and postures that people are attracted to when choosing their ‘ideal’ horse. Participants of an internet survey were asked to rate their preference for horse silhouettes that illustrated three gradations of five variables: facial shape, crest height, ear length, ear position and head-and-neck carriage. There were 1,234 usable responses. The results show that overall preferences are for the intermediate, rather than extreme, morphological choices (p=<0.001). They also indicate that males are 2.5 times less likely to prefer thicker necks rather than the intermediate shape, and 4 times more likely to prefer the thinner neck shape. When compared to the novice participants, experienced participants were 1.9 times more likely to prefer a thicker neck shape than the intermediate neck shape and 2.8 times less likely to prefer a thinner neck shape than the intermediate neck shape. There was overall preference of 93% (n=939) for the category of head carriage ‘In front of the vertical’. However, novice participants were 1.8 times more likely to choose ‘behind the vertical’ than ‘in front of the vertical’. Our results suggest that people prefer a natural head carriage, concave facial profile (dished face), larger ears and thicker necks. From these survey data, it seems that some innate preferences may run counter to horse health and welfare.
Caspar GL, Dhand NK, McGreevy PD (2015) Human Preferences for Conformation Attributes and Head-And-Neck Positions in Horses. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0131880. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131880