Wahetondailynews.com - Full Article
by Lori Ricigliano Jan 26, 2019
Have you ever wondered if your horse prefers to be scratched or patted as a reward? Well, a group of scientists in England had just that thought. The issue of patting versus scratching hadn’t been previously addressed in scientific studies, so Dr. Sara Redgate and Emily Handcock, Msc. of Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham, United Kingdom decided to see if scratching the horses’ withers (withers are located at the top of the shoulder at the base of the horse’s neck) could potentially increase horse/human bonding and act as a more effective reward. Hancock noted, “Scratching is a natural behavior among horses, whereas patting is not. Riders and handlers should be encouraged to scratch rather than pat their horses as a reward.”
To test their theory, they observed 16 horse/rider combinations at the Grand Prix Special dressage test of the 2012 Olympic games in London. Overall, patting their horse dominated any other type of non-aid given contact by the riders. The reactions of the horses indicated 34 percent of the horses displayed visible behavioral reactions, for example: speeding up their movements when they received the pats. Those that received scratching rewards stayed calmer and moved less.
The scientists then investigated the effects of patting versus wither-scratching in 10 riding school horses. In this study, the handlers patted each horse for 30 seconds four times. They then scratched their withers four times for the same time period. The team recorded heart rate and behavior on all the horses...
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