Horses Can Become Depressed In Response To Social Or Physical Discomfort

by | 04.19.2016 | 8:11am

Horses can develop something akin to depression in response to social or physical discomfort, a new report from France has determined.

The University of Rennes conducted research on 15 horses that were considered “normal” and 12 horses that were considered “withdrawn.” Horses seen as “withdrawn” stood for long periods of time with no movement and with their heads, ears and neck fixed; their eyes were wide open and they went for long periods of time without blinking, reports EQUUS magazine.

To see how the study horses reacted to stimuli, they subjected them to five unusual sounds: baboon, goose, whale, an unfamiliar horse and a piano. Each day, each horse heard one of the sounds played for three seconds from a speaker next to his stall. The horse's reaction to every sound was videotaped.

The study, published in Behavioural Processes, showed that the withdrawn horses were significantly less likely to pay attention to the noises. Only 50 percent of the withdrawn horses reacted to the noises by pricking their ears, lifting their heads or in some other way reacting to the noises being played from the speakers, while over 90 percent of the normal horses reacted to the noises. Over the five-day study, the control horses became habituated to the noises, but the withdrawn horses' behavior didn't change significantly over the course of the study.

Study researchers determined that the withdrawn horses has undergone a cognitive shift: The horses were so physically or psychologically stressed that they had tuned out their surroundings; they had “inward-oriented attention.” It should be noted that because the horses didn't display a reaction does not mean they are calm.

This study adds to growing research that horses can enter a depression-like state as a reaction to their environment or to chronic pain. This study suggests that taking a closer look at horses who appear withdrawn is warranted. Horses that exhibit these symptoms should be examined for health problems, and their living conditions should be questioned, especially if other horses on the same farm exhibit the same symptoms.

Read more about the study here.

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