How Well Do Horse Industry Members Interpret and Apply Animal Behavior and Welfare Concepts?
Misunderstanding or misinterpreting specific animal behavior and welfare terminology, as well as principles of learning theory, may influence an individual’s perceptions of horse behavior. This error could potentially result in unnecessary applications of horse training principles and/or human interventions, which could potentially worsen the behavior or situation, leading to unnecessary welfare problems.
The purpose of this dissertation was to explore interpretations and understandings of specific animal behavior and welfare terminology, and learning theory principles, as applied to horses, among adults within the horse industry. Chapters 1 and 2 introduced, summarized, and linked the connection between horse behavior, horse welfare, learning theory, and schema theory. Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 each pilot-tested an online survey that was completed at the convenience of each participant to explore these interpretations and understandings. Chapter 3 (n = 46) utilized a survey containing general demographic questions, psychographic questions related to horse industry involvement, five videos of horse-human interactions (each with corresponding heart rate, HR, data), and 11 learning theory scenarios. Chapter 4 (n = 21) used a survey containing general demographic questions and five videos of various human-horse interactions, including the same five videos with horse HR information included. Using results from Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, further investigation of how individuals interpret and understand specific animal behavior and welfare terminology, and learning theory principles, as applied to horses was explored across a larger sample of adults within the horse industry. Chapter 5 (n = 1,145) utilized the same survey instrument as Chapter 3 among a more robust sample of adults within the horse industry.
Across all three studies, the main results suggest that although participants demonstrated a high level of agreement between each other when identifying fear, stress, and reactivity to describe a horse’s behavior, participants could not correctly define fear, stress, reactivity, or principles of learning theory, as related to horses. They also could not connect these states to an important physiological factor, i.e., HR, when identifying these states. Results across all three studies suggest that most participant demographics (such as age, gender, or race) did not influence participants’ abilities to correctly identify or define fear, stress, reactivity, or learning theory principles. Similarly, results from Chapters 3 and 5 suggest that most participant psychographics, such as horse ownership, or level of involvement with horses, did not affect ability to correctly identify key horse behaviors related to fear, stress, and reactivity, or understanding of learning theory principles, or ability to correctly define these states and principles.
Overall, this dissertation identified the need for additional education when it comes to clearly defining specific states such as fear, stress, and reactivity for individuals across the horse industry. Additional psychographic factors, such as an individual’s specific role or niche in the industry, or an individuals’ overall view of horses, should be further explored.