The question Dr. Katrina Merkies set out to answer recently is; 'Does the human voice have a calming effect on horses?' The title of a recent news release from the International Society for Equitation Science Conference (ISES) was just that. The 9th Annual Conference - ISES USA 2013 entitled 'Embracing Science to Enhance Equine Welfare and Horse-Human Interaction', was held July 18-20, 2013 at the University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware. This year’s topic was specific to Dr. Merkies’ research interests in horse-human interactions.
An underlying question behind Dr. Merkies efforts is; Do horses benefit from providing therapy to humans as much as humans do from equine assisted learning and activities? Riders in training have been instructed to talk in a low, calm voice to horses for years and Dr. Merkies decided to put this advice to the scientific test. She has now begun to study the horse’s interpretation of types of human speech. The video below was presented at the ISES conference this July and show typical results for stern high, stern low, pleasant high and pleasant low voice types. Enjoy this intriguing video.
As demonstrated in the video, the study found that talking in a calm voice lead to the horse moving more slowly and orienting its body more toward the person. However, talking in a stern voice caused increased heart rates in horses and quicker movements away from the person.
At the ISES conference last year in Edinburgh, Scotland Dr. Merkies presented work on the horse' ability to differentiate between people with elevated heart rates due to exercise compared to nervous people. More recently, this past spring she also presented a talk at the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare's Annual Animal Welfare Research Symposium here at the University of Guelph. This work showed that horses respond to human posture. They move slower when the person turns away and more quickly when the person faces the horse.
Dr. Merkies' ultimate goal is to provide a safe environment for people in programs with therapy horses by understanding the horse’s reactions to people while considering the welfare of the horses as equally important.
For more information on Dr. Katrina Merkies please visit her home site at the Kempville Campus website here
APS News: Friday August 30, 2013 - By: Judy Stryker
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