Reliability of a descriptive reference ethogram for equitation science

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An ethogram and its components, correctly defined behavior units, are the fundamental measuring tools for (applied) ethology and, therefore, also for equitation science, the nascent discipline that gathers evidence based on horse training, handling, and riding. However, there is currently no consensus on names and definitions of equine behaviors, and no purely descriptive ethogram for horses is available. As structural descriptions of behavioral units are a starting point for experimental enquiries into their function, cause, or ontogeny, this project sets out to draft and test the reliability of a descriptive reference ethogram for domestic horses (Equus caballus). Classification, names, and definitions of behaviors were descriptive and assigned to categories according to structural similarities. An international panel of participants (n = 23) was established to represent both researchers in equitation science and practitioners, including trainers, riders, coaches, and veterinarians. A part of the ethogram was tested by asking the panel to score 30 short video clips for 20 different behaviors and requesting feedback on the ethogram. Statistical analyses with logistic mixed models showed that variability between observers (P < 0.0001). This preliminary descriptive ethogram for horses in domestic contexts merits further development and will require the addition of more behaviors and therefore more fine-tuned definitions.


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