June 13, 2008

Eye contact appears to make little difference to your chances of success in catching a horse in a paddock, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found.

Each of 104 horses and ponies was approached for catching at pasture by the same human handler in a standard manner, either maintaining human-to-animal eye contact (in 51 cases) or avoiding eye contact (in 53 cases).

Seventy-four of those horses were reevaluated three weeks later under similar standard conditions, with the eye contact condition opposite to that used in the first round.

"Although this study represents a single handler at one study site, results suggest that human-to-horse eye contact may not be an important influence on catching pastured horses," the authors said.

"Certainly, further work is needed to better understand the role of eye contact in horse handling."

The study, entitled 'Equal Outcomes with and without Human-to-Horse Eye Contact When Catching Horses and Ponies in an Open Pasture', was conducted by Sarah Verrill and Sue McDonnell.