Understanding Coping Strategies in Horses Focus of Latest Morris Animal Foundation-Funded Study

How horses cope with stressful situations is the topic of a new study funded by Morris Animal Foundation. The study will be conducted by Dr. Désirée Brucks of the University of Giessen, Germany.

Some horses, when confronted with unfamiliar or potentially stressful situations (such as transport or addition of a new stablemate), react impulsively and have trouble adapting, while other horses quickly adapt and show flexible behaviors.

“Horses that consistently fail to cope with their environment are at risk of deteriorating mental health and poor welfare,” said Dr. Brucks. “With our study, we want to learn whether impulsivity is an underlying behavioral mechanism that is linked to coping capacities in horses.”

The study team’s goal is to better understand behavior signposts for horses more likely to react negatively in certain situations, as well as find ways to inform training regimes to help reduce stress response. The study team will observe stress behavior in daily situations as well as assess the horses’ personalities.

“We are pleased to sponsor this new equine behavior research study,” said Dr. Kathy Tietje, Vice President of Scientific Operations at Morris Animal Foundation. “Now in its third year, this donor-inspired program addresses a critical gap in funding for equine quality of life.”

Dr. Wendy Koch, a veterinarian who has supported the Foundation for 30 years, provided funding for the awarded grant. “Unwanted behaviors (from bucking to zoning out), vices, and other such problems are our horses’ only way of telling us that our behavior may be negatively affecting their welfare – and we often miss the subtler signals our horses send us,” noted Koch.

Dr. Koch has closely followed equine behavior and welfare research and wanted to address an unmet need for funding in these areas. She worked with the Foundation to create the Equine Behavior/Welfare Research fund to support studies that will improve understanding of horses’ behavioral and psychological needs and challenges.

This study is part of the Foundation’s Donor-Inspired Study program, which allows individual donors to directly support a research topic for which they have a passion, and for which there is a pressing need.

 About Morris Animal Foundation
Morris Animal Foundation’s mission is to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. Founded in 1948 and headquartered in Denver, it is one of the largest nonprofit animal health research organizations in the world, funding more than $149 million in nearly 3,000 critical studies across a broad range of species. Learn more at morrisanimalfoundation.org.

Media Contact: Kelly Diehl, DVM, MS