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Assessing the Impact of Blindfolding on Equine Handling

Filed under: Health & Training |     

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From Equine Science Update:


Blindfolding horses is thought to make them easier to handle in stressful situations. By covering their eyes, blindfolds can reduce distractions that might make them anxious, especially in new or tense environments. However, there has been limited research in this area so far.

A study conducted by Caleigh Copelin, Bryn Hayman, Renée Bergeron, and Katrina Merkies at the University of Guelph investigated this topic. Their research suggests that blindfolding might offer benefits when encountering visually intimidating stimuli, especially in situations where time constraints are not present.

However, in emergency situations, such as barn fire evacuations, blindfolding is likely to prolong lead time and exacerbate handling difficulties. This could impede successful rescue efforts and potentially jeopardize the safety of both humans and animals.

The study involved thirty-three riding school horses led through a course of obstacles, both blindfolded and unblindfolded. Parameters such as time taken, lead rope pressure, heart rate, and frequency of avoidant or resistant behaviour were recorded and compared between the two groups.

Overall, blindfolded horses required more time and exerted greater lead rope pressure when led from a stall compared to unblindfolded horses. They also exhibited higher frequencies of avoidant and refusal behaviours and experienced higher heart rate increases during the process.

However, when navigating a visually frightening obstacle (a gate made of pool noodles that brushed their flanks), blindfolded horses needed less time, exerted less lead rope pressure, and displayed fewer avoidant or refusal behaviours, than they did when not blindfolded.

The researchers suggest that blindfolding may be beneficial in situations involving visually frightening stimuli and where time constraints are not a concern. Nevertheless, further research is necessary to evaluate more realistically the effectiveness of blindfolds in simulated emergency scenarios.


For more details, see:

Copelin, C, Hayman, B, Bergeron, R, Merkies, K,.

Compliance or confusion? The usefulness of blindfolding horses as a handling technique,

Applied Animal Behaviour Science, (2024)

Vol 271,106180,

Posted by Mark Andrews

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