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Sensory sensitivities: Components of a horse's temperament dimension

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.02.012
  • Horse
  • Equus Caballus
  • Temperament
  • Sensory Sensitivity
  • Behavioural Tests
  • Design


Abstract Temperament is an important factor when working with horses. Behavioural tests have already been developed to measure certain dimensions of a horse's temperament (fearfulness, gregariousness, etc.). In order to measure the temperament more precisely, our work aimed to identify a dimension which has already been described in several species but not yet in horses, namely sensory sensitivity. Our study was based on the definition of a temperament dimension as “a behavioural characteristic stable across situations and over time”. We designed several tests for each sense and then determined whether the responses observed were correlated between situations and in time. The principle of the tests was to generate two stimuli of different intensities for each sense (e.g. two different sounds) and to measure the intensity of the horse's response ( N = 26). Using Spearman rank correlations, we tested whether the responses to these different stimuli were inter-correlated. We repeated the same tests 5 months later to determine whether the responses were correlated over time. Within each sense, results show that the greater the horses’ response to one stimulus, the greater their response to the other. For example, the reaction to the odour of cinnamon (time spent near the source of the odour) was significantly correlated to the reaction to lavender ( R = 0.53, p = 0.004). The reactions to two different sounds or to two different tactile stimuli (von Frey filaments, or contact of a brush on the body), were also significantly correlated ( R = 0.59, p < 0.0001; R = 0.38, p = 0.029). Finally, the reactions to two different tastes or to two visual stimuli tended to be correlated ( R = 0.27, p = 0.09; R = 0.27, p = 0.09). However, there was no significant correlation between the responses to stimuli relating to different senses. Finally, except for the responses to odour, the responses to other sensory stimuli showed stability over a 5-month period (e.g. tactile stimulation: R = 0.71, p < 0.0001). In conclusion, our study revealed characteristics which were stable across situations and over time. The absence of links between the characteristics measured for the different senses suggests that a dimension for each sense exists (e.g. tactile sensitivity) rather than a general sensory sensitivity dimension covering all the senses.

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