Summarized by Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota
Adapted horses have been found to have a calming effect on other horses in fear-eliciting situations. In practice, experienced horses are often used as companions when young horses are introduced to potentially frightening situations (i.e. loading onto a trailer). However, studies of social transmission of adapted in horses are scarce.
This study, conducted in Denmark, investigated if demonstration by an experienced horse influenced the willingness of young Icelandic horses to cross a novel surface. Young horses were allowed to observe the experienced horse being led five times across a novel surface. Immediately afterwards, the young horses were given the opportunity to cross the novel surface themselves to obtain food on the other side. Controls were allowed to observe the experienced horse eating on the opposite side of the novel surface but not when the experienced horse crossed the novel surface.
All young horses succeeded in the task, but horses who observed the experienced horses crossing the novel surface had significantly lower average and maximum heart rate compared to controls. This result suggests a calming effect of the demonstration, which could be implemented when training young horses in fear-eliciting situations.