A free online tool developed by scientists enables riders to benchmark their horses against thousands of others in terms of welfare, training and behaviour.
The Equine Behavior Assessment and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ), launched by University of Sydney researchers after eight years of planning, will develop into a ongoing global database of horse behaviour.
Since ancient times, horse behaviour and the bond between horses and humans have been a source of intrigue and fascination.
The horse-lore that has accumulated over the centuries is a rich mix of both useful practice (approaching horses from their left side, making them slightly less reactive) and unsubstantiated myth, such as the one that chestnut horses are especially difficult to deal with.
E-BARQ is a study that explores how horse training and management interact with behaviour.
Horse owners who fill out the questionnaire will be benefiting the study, but it will also provide them with valuable feedback that benchmarks their horses against others.
It will reveal invaluable information on how training and management strategies affect behaviour and how, in turn, behaviour affects horse welfare.
On completion of the questionnaire, contributors will receive a graph that compares their horse with 1000s of other horses across various different categories. They will also receive a private dashboard where they can log each of their horses and view their E-BARQ results.
This innovative tool is free of charge.
Horse owners can upload photographs to a custom-built online dashboard, recording their horse’s progress in training over time.
For the first time, they will also be able to compare their horse’s behaviour with that of other horses. The share-and-compare graphs will reveal attributes such as trainability, rideability, handling, compliance, boldness, and human social confidence.
Riders and handlers can monitor their horse’s progress over time by returning to their E-BARQ dashboard every six months and re-take the questionnaire, updating their scores.
Owners and riders will get a new insight into which areas their horses are performing well in and where they may require help.
Researchers say E-BARQ can be a powerful tool for advancing horse welfare, as it can monitor the longitudinal consequences of different training methods.
It will also inform evidence-based judgments on the ethics and sustainability of horse sports.
Those behind the initiative say it will reveal the true impact of ancient traditions and modern trends.
“This can use used by everyone, from the general riding public to equine scientists and veterinarians,” they said in a statement.
This project builds on a similar project for dogs (C-BARQ), which has collected information on more than 85,000 dogs and been used in more than 70 research studies that have revealed behavioural differences, for example, that relate to head and body shape and the astonishing effect of desexing on behaviour.
C-BARQ, they say, has revolutionised the understanding of dog behaviour.
Those behind the not-for-profit project say the questionnaire and app will expose how training and management influence horse behaviour, and vice versa.
Ultimately, it will reveal how breeds differ in responses and illuminate breed-typical personality types, how male and female horses differ, how horses used in different disciplines differ in their behaviour, and how horse behaviour changes with maturation and training.
“A horse’s behaviour has a direct impact on its usefulness and that, in turn, affects its value and – sadly – the care it receives,” say Kate Fenner and Paul McGreevy, who are part of the E-BARQ project.
“There is evidence from Europe that over 65% of horses outside the racing industry are slaughtered before the age of seven, very often for behavioural reasons.
“Information provided by E-BARQ could potentially help buyers identify warning signs of dangerous behaviours and make more informed choices when purchasing.
“E-BARQ also holds great promise in tracking, welfare monitoring, promoting early intervention and the education of new owners in the area of horse rescue and re-homing.”
By providing researchers with an unprecedented wealth of information, E-BARQ has the potential to revolutionise the way we train and manage our horses and, as a result, make real and lasting positive changes in horse welfare and the sustainability of horse sports, the pair say.
The project site is here.