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Training Stress Measured in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 18, 2012

Training produces a certain amount of anxiety and stress in young horses. Do different training strategies vary in the amount of stress they induce? That question was investigated by a study conducted by Witold Kedzierski, Ph.D., a Polish equine scientist.

The study used 32 untrained two-year-old Arabian colts and fillies divided into two groups. Horses in the first group were trained in a traditional manner. These horses were first trained to walk on an automated walker and then longed at a walk and trot in an arena. When the horse could be longed under control at the trot, it was longed with a saddle on and then was mounted.

Horses in the second group were trained using natural methods. Each horse was started in a round pen. Ground work consisted of getting the horses used to unfamiliar objects and teaching them to yield to pressure. The trainer waited for each horse to show that it accepted the weight of a saddle and a human lying over its back. The trainer then mounted the horse and assumed a seated position.

Heart rate was measured for each horse prior to training and then the first time the horse was saddled and had the girth tightened, the first time it walked with a saddle on, and the first time a trainer mounted the horse.

Results showed that horses in the natural training group had overall lower heart rates than those in the traditional training group. There were some increases in heart rate at various stages of training, with the rises in heart rates being more pronounced in colts than in fillies.

The trainers in this study were experienced in their training methods and in working with young horses. Results might be different for horse owners who are unfamiliar with training techniques and lack experience in handling young, untrained horses. Also, anyone training a horse should remember that each horse is an individual and will respond in its own unique way to training.