The influence of head and neck position on stress in the horse
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There has been a lot of controversy about training methods used for horses, for example rollkur, low-deep-round training methods or other positions of the head and neck. Most important issue in this discussion is that these training methods can be an impairment to the horse’s welfare. The objective of this study was to determine if horses experienced different head and neck positions as stressful, when compared to the stress experienced in the neutral head and neck position. To measure stress in the horse there are different parameters that can be used, namely behaviour observation, Heart rate variability, plasma cortisol and plasma beta-endorphin concentration. In this study we compared four different head and neck positions to the neutral position measuring stress in the horses using behaviour observation combined with cortisol and beta-endorphin plasma concentration. The head and neck positions were tested using a standardized exercise. During which the horses were filmed, the video’s were used to score the behaviour observations using a standardized ethogram. On fixed moments before and after the exercise and in the morning and evening blood and saliva samples were taken for plasma cortisol and beta-endorphin concentration measurements. The conclusion is based on behaviour observations alone, because the cortisol and beta-endorphin plasma concentrations are still to be awaited. The conclusion based on the behaviour observations was that the different head and neck positions that were compared to the natural position all caused different levels of stress in the horse. The behavioral observations in this study, according to our ethogram, point out that the horses got frustrated, irritated and that they resisted against the different head and neck positions they were exercised in. Less resistance was shown in the head and neck positions in which the neck and head were lowered and more resistance was shown in the head and neck positions in which the neck and head were raised.