Equine Science Update
Reports from the world of  equine research.
Transporting horses with mirrors.
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Many horses find being transported stressful, especially when they are travelling alone. The physical and psychological trauma can have an adverse effect on their health and welfare. A novel way of minimising the stress experienced by horses being transported was presented at the National Equine Forum held in London in March 2007. Rachel Kay, from Nottingham Trent University, showed that transporting horses with a mirror reduces behaviour caused by stress- such as neighing, head tossing, turning around, and refusing food.

Her research into the effect of creating surrogate companionship on the physiology and behaviour of horses during transportation won the Royal Agricultural Society of England’s Eqvalan Duo Equine Thesis of the Year Award for 2006.

The study monitored 10 mature horses transported in a trailer for 30 minutes, and studied how the horses responded when travelling alone, with another horse, or with a mirror for company.

It involved recording the horses’ behaviour during the journey, and their heart rate. Also recorded were ear-pinna and rectal temperatures as an indirect measurement of peripheral circulation.  This provided a way of assessing the changes in blood flow that occur as part of the horse’s response to stress.

Ms Kay found that transporting horses with a mirror reduced stress-induced behaviours such as neighing, head tossing, turning around and refusing to eat, as effectively as travelling with another horse. In fact she found no significant differences in behaviour or physiological measures between the responses of horses travelling with a companion or with a mirror.

Compared with travelling alone, travelling with a companion significantly reduced the stress-associated fall in ear-pinna temperature and increase in rectal temperature.

She also pointed out the positive effect of the mirror on eating. “It would be interesting to study the effect of mirrors in the stable on poor feeders or convalescing horses.

Horses will usually travel better with a companion. But where this is not possible, they travel better if provided with a mirror as a substitute than they do travelling alone. “My recommendations from the study are to travel horses with a mirror as they seemed much calmer, although a real companion is best.”

For more details see:

The effect of creating surrogate companionship on physiology and behaviour of horses during transportation.
Rachel Kay.
Thesis: Brackenhurst College (Nottingham Trent University) 2006.
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