Fear reactions in large domestic animals, such as cattle and horses, frequently cause human accidents. These herbivores have co-evolved with their predators for millions of years in the wild and have evolved fear responses both to actual threats and to threatening stimuli, such as unfamiliar objects and sudden events. Although the threshold for expression of fear responses is elevated in domestic animals, these behaviours are still expressed once that threshold is reached. Especially horses show intense flight reactions when alarmed and frequently cause serious accidents, where children and young are particularly exposed.
There is, however, potential for reduction of fear in animals through social transmission from habituated individuals. In mammalian species, the mother is of primary importance in the short- and long-term regulation of the offspring’s behaviour, and some permanent behavioural characteristics of the young appear to be strongly associated with the emotional state of the mother. In this project we aim to unravel the link between maternal behaviour and offspring fear and stress reactivity, and to explore the use of maternal transmission as a tool to reduce fearfulness in horses.
The overall aim of the project is to i) identify maternal mediation of fear and stress reactivity, ii) determine the extent to which fear can be modified through social transmission of habituation, and iii) implement and validate new methods to measure learning capacity and explore the link between fearfulness, learning and performance.
The project is funded by The Danish Research Council for Technology and Production
Projektet undersøger sammenhængen mellem karakterer for ridelighed, gangarter og kapacitet (vurderet af 10 professionelle ryttere) og niveauet af tøjletræk, schenkeltryk samt hestens hjerterate og udskillelse af stresshormonet cortisol. Ti ungheste rides i et standardiseret program af 10 professionelle ryttere, og det undersøges, om rytterne er enige i deres bedømmelse af hestene, samt i hvor høj grad karaktererne afspejler den objektive måling af accept/reaktion på hjælperne (tøjletræk/schenkeltryk).
Resultaterne forventes offentliggjort i løbet af 2015.