Author's note: Analysis of the effects of procedures and environmental stimulation on horse behavior is an important welfare topic in the equine industry. Relaxed and calm horses tend to be more tractable and willing to work with people, and not as readily provoked into displaying dangerous behaviors.
Another topic at the 2016 International Society for Equitation Science presented the use of non-confrontational methods of relieving a horse’s anxiety during aversive veterinary procedures [Watson, J.; McDonnell, S. Evaluation of the effectiveness of three non-confrontational handling techniques on the behavior of horses during a simulated mildly aversive veterinary procedure]. Techniques used included: 1) scratching the withers; 2) gentle rubbing of face and eyes; and 3) feeding grain. Use of these calming methods were compared to responses in control horses in which nothing was done.
The aversive procedure tested used electric sheep shears run close to the faces of 48 horses in the study. The study concluded, “Each of these three non-confrontational handling techniques meant to distract or comfort was effective in reducing problematic avoidance/stress responses in this simulated veterinary care scenario.”
Which of these non-confrontational techniques one chooses to use depends on an individual horse’s response to a particular situation.