The attention spans of different types of horses have been explored in a recent study. The team of researchers found that regardless of their age, gender or breed, riding school horses showed less fragmented attention than all other equines, with eventers attention shifting the most frequently.

More than 60 horses were involved in the research, working in four different disciplines, and were given a visual attention test (VAT) in their home environment. The study revealed that individual attentional characteristics were strongly related to the type of work the horse was involved in.

Riding school horses showed less fragmented attention over all other horses, including sport horses living in the same conditions. Sport performance was correlated with attention fragmentation during the test in event horses, which the researchers said may need more attention-shifting during competitions.

“Working conditions may influence attention characteristics indirectly through welfare, or directly through selection and training,” they said.

In view of the results, the researchers proposed that horses could be selected for certain types of work according whether they present suitable behaviour, involving attention characteristics, for that discipline.

“Horses living in the same conditions but trained either for showjumping or eventing showed differences in attention characteristics: eventing horses were characterized by more fragmentation of attention compared to jumping horses,” they said. “This attention characteristic was positively correlated to eventing horses’ performance in competition. Recreational and breeding horses showed an intermediate attentional profile.

“The observed individual differences in attention according to the type of work revealed in the present study were remarkable as they were tested in a non-work-related context.”

The team added that further studies on larger samples would be beneficial and could integrate other aspects such as back health and welfare indicators.

Horses’ attentional characteristics differ according to the type of work was published in Plos One on 25 July.

Lead image copyright: Kelsey Media

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