A group of researchers in Poland looked at what was termed “conflict behavior” (CB) in a group of show jumping and dressage horses. They defined CB as “a response exhibited by animals that experience difficulty coping with mental or physical discomfort and is more often demonstrated as some form of resistance to handling or training cues and/or equipment.” They went on to define, in equestrian sport, the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) code of conduct for the welfare of the horse that stipulates“…horses must only undergo training that matches their physical capabilities and level of maturity for theirrespective disciplines.” The objective of this study was to determine the incidence of CB in horses participating in competition, using 150 horses (100 show jumpers and 50 dressage horses in upper level competition) and reviewing FEI TV transmissions. Specific behaviors that were assessed were headshaking, pulling the reins out of the riders’ hands (PR), gaping, and tail swishing (TS) per second during competition.
They also recorded the amount of time each horse presented with a low head position and with the nose behind the vertical. Their data showed that in show jumping, PR was the most frequent and vertical and combination fences the most problematic. In dressage, TS was the most frequent CB and occurred more often during the complicated dressage movement phases. Dressage horses were also found to be ridden more often in the low head/nose behind vertical position as compared to the show jumping horses. The authors concluded “the high incidence of CB observed in elite jumping and dressage competition suggests that many horses may not be sufficiently prepared for competition in line with the FEI code of conduct guidelines. “ They went on to suggest that “the occurrence and/or extent of CB exhibited by horses participating in elite jumping and dressage sport require further scrutiny in terms of the FEI code of conduct guidelines.”
Relevance: I review a research article like this and it causes me to reflect about my own horse and what it is that I ask of her from a performance standpoint. If this makes me a bit more perceptive about how she is coping with what it is I expect of her, then both rider and horse benefit. It made me curious to look, again, at the FEI code of conduct and I have included a link to it for you as well: https://www.fei.org/fei/about-fei/values
Article: Gorecka-Bruzda, A, et. al. Conflict behavior in elite show jumping and dressage horses. J of Vet Behavior: Clin Applications and Research, vol. 10, issue 2, Mar-Apr 2015, pp 137-46.