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Accueil veterinaires comportementalistes Publications internationales veterinaires comportementalistes Effects of neonatal handling on subsequent manageability, reactivity and learning ability of foals

Effects of neonatal handling on subsequent manageability, reactivity and learning ability of foals

Léa Lansade , Magali Bertrand and Marie-France Bouissou

Revue : Applied Animal Behaviour Science

Laboratoire du Comportement Animal, UMR 6175 INRA-CNRS-Université de Tours ? Haras Nationaux, F-37380 Nouzilly, France

Accepted 31 October 2004. Available online 29 December 2004.

Behaviour is an important factor to be taken into account in the various uses of horses. Today horses are mainly used for sport and leisure activities. They should therefore be easy to manage, calm and not fearful. Early handling is known to improve manageability and learning ability and to reduce fearfulness in various species. It has become fashionable in the horse industry to use an early training procedure, referred to as ?imprint training?, which is said to produce durable if not permanent effects. However, no studies concerning the long-term effects of such neonatal handling have been carried out in horses.
The present study examines the short- and long-term effects of neonatal handling on manageability, general reactivity and learning ability of foals. Twenty-six Welsh foals were studied: 13 were handled daily for 14 days from birth and 13 were non-handled controls. The handling procedure consisted of fitting a halter, gently patting all parts of each foal's body, picking up feet and leading over 40 m. Two days, 3 months, 6 months and 1 year after the end of the handling period, foals underwent behavioural tests to measure their manageability and various aspects of their reactivity. The results showed that neonatal handling has only short-term effects on manageability: 2 days after the handling period, handled animals were significantly easier to handle than controls for the four parameters measured during this test (time to fit a halter, time to pick up feet, walk ratio that is time during which foal walks under constraint/total time measured during leading and number of defensive reactions). Two parameters (time to fit a halter and walk ratio) were still lower in handled foals than in non-handled foals 3 months later and only one 6 months later (walk ratio). One year later there was no difference between groups. In addition, there was no effect of handling on reactivity at any time of testing or in any of the tests (reaction to isolation from conspecifics, presence of a human, presence of a novel object and to a surprise effect). Finally, neonatal handling did not improve the spatial or discriminative learning abilities measured at 14 months of age. To conclude, the effects of neonatal handling are only temporary.
Keywords: Horse; Neonatal handling; Manageability; Emotional reactivity; Learning-ability; Human?animal relationship

Corresponding author. Tel.: +33 2 47 42 77 00

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Applied Animal Behaviour Sciences - July 2005


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