Stress during the initial training of the horse
Scientific evidence on the stress of starting a young horse is limited. This study aims to determine which steps are potentially stressful in starting a young horse. The results underlines that the first mounting of the rider as one of the first steps in equestrian training should be performed with care since this gives the most stress.
In this study 16 3-year-old Warmblood horses were followed through a 9- and 12- week classical equitation training program form lunging to first mounting by a rider and progressing to moderate work. Stress will be measures with the level of cortisol in saliva, heart rate and heart rate variability.
While the whole process of starting a horse is a stressor, the horses were most stressed during the first mounting of the rider. This situation resembles the attack of an predator which naturally causes the horse stress. When the horse accepted the rider on his back and was requested to move with the rider, the stress level decreased again. Moving with the rider might help to reduce the stress more quickly. Once the horse has adapted to the presence of the rider on its back, the next steps of training request predominantly natural behavior patterns. As long as this is trained in a systematic and stepwise program it will be more a physical demand than an stressor. The results strengthen the importance of a careful approach during the first steps of training a horse.
Expert opinion by Annet Veen
The results might sound logical to experienced horse riders. However it is important to truly know what causes the horse stress and what not. This gives a better understanding in the horse’s behavior and can also help us find methods to reduce the stress more quickly. Interesting in this article that it found out that when the horse is able to move he experiences less stress with a rider on his back. Also it underlines the importance of starting a young horse with great care.
> From: Schmidt et al., Hormones and behavior 58 (2010) 628-636. All rights reserved to Elsevier Inc.. Click here for the online summary.