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Effects of handling at weaning on manageability and reactivity of foals

Abstract : The horse's temperament, including its manageability and reactivity and/or fearfulness, is of importance as it can result in problems and can render horses unsuitable for inexperienced riders. Early experience, including handling during infancy, may influence the horse's adult behaviour and reduce its fear of humans and other potentially frigthening situations. In the various species studied, handling has generally been undertaken during the neonatal period. The aim of the present study was to test the effects of handling young horses around the time of weaning, a period which has been demonstrated to be effective in increasing ease of handling in cattle and goats. Sixteen Anglo-Arab foals were handled for 12 days either immediately following weaning (early handled: EH) or 21 days later (late handled: LH); eight additional non-handled foals served as controls (C). Handling consisted of haltering, gently petting all parts of the body, picking up feet and leading the foal over 120 m. During handling sessions, EH were easier to handle than LH: time taken to fit them with a halter, to pick up feet, and "walk-ratio" (time walking under constraint/total time walking) were significantly lower for EH. During subsequent tests conducted over 2 days, 4, and 7 months, as well as 10 months and to some extent 18 months after the end of handling period, EH and LH were easier to handle and less reactive than controls, although differences diminished with time. The period following weaning can therefore be qualified as an "optimal period" for handling. Some of the effects persist for at least 18 months.
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Léa Lansade, M. Bertrand, Xavier Boivin, M.F. Bouissou. Effects of handling at weaning on manageability and reactivity of foals. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Elsevier, 2004, 87 (1-2), pp.131-149. ⟨10.1016/j.applanim.2003.12.011⟩. ⟨hal-02679166⟩



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