Thursday, February 27, 2020

Improving racecourse fence visibility for horses

Research into the colour of racecourse jumps have now been published. It was commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and Racing Foundation with the aim of making obstacles easier for horses to see, and so reducing the risk of falls and injuries for horses and jockeys.

The main findings have been made available previously, but now the full report has been published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Horses see colours differently from humans. Humans and other primates have three types of light-responsive cells (cones) in their eyes, giving what is called trichromatic colour vision. Normal human eyes detect four basic colours: red, green, yellow and blue. They can also differentiate up to 100 subtle variations in hue. Humans with red-green colour vision defects can only see two basic colours - yellow and blue.

Proposed new colours to make jumps more visible to horses
Horses, as with other non-primate mammals, have only two types of cone, giving them dichromatic vision. The colours seen by the horse are likely to be like those seen by humans with red-green colour blindness.

Currently, orange is used on hurdle frames and fence take-off boards and guard-rails. Although this makes the fences stand out to human eyes, it is unlikely that it makes the obstacle more visible to horses.

The study, conducted by Dr. Sarah Paul and Professor Martin Stevens of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, looked at the visibility to horses of a range of colours, and then examined the horses’ response to the presence of different colours on racecourse fences.

They analysed the contrast of traditional orange markers currently used on fences from 11 UK racecourses, and compared this to possible alternatives: yellow blue and white. They also investigated how light and weather conditions affected contrast. 

The researchers found that yellow, blue, and white were more conspicuous against fences and their surroundings (foreground/background) than orange. 

Highly luminant whites or blues at the base of the fence (take-off board) gave the best contrast, while fluorescent yellow gave the greatest contrast against the main fence body (i.e. when used for midrail colour) in different light and weather conditions.

Paul and Stevens then tested the jumping responses of horses to fences with orange, yellow, blue, or white take-off boards and guard rails.

They found that the colour of the fences could influence both the angle that horses jump a fence and the length of the jump. Horses adjusted their jump angles with colours other than orange, and white tended to produce a longer total jump distance.

The researchers suggest that the optimum colour combination, which is likely to combine the best features of visibility and horse responses under a range of conditions, is to use fluorescent yellow for all hurdles and guard-rails, and fluorescent white for take-off boards. This maximises visibility under all conditions while potentially facilitating better behavioural responses.

In response to this study, a recommendation was approved by the sport's Racecourse Committee for a trial using fluorescent yellow for all hurdles and guard-rails, and fluorescent white for take-off boards at fences. 

For more details, see:

Horse vision and obstacle visibility in horseracing.
Paul SC, Stevens M.
Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2020:104882.

Microchip body temperature monitoring placed microchip readers could be used to monitor body temperature, a recent study has shown.

Monitoring rectal temperature is a useful technique to identify early signs of respiratory disease. However, it is labour-intensive and time consuming, and also presents a significant risk to the operator, especially in young stock.

Some microchips, as well as carrying an identification code, can measure body temperature.
A study by Juliette Auclair-Ronzaud and others at the Institut français du cheval et de l’équitation (IFCE), Station Expérimentale de la Valade, Chamberet, France assessed the value of using microchip readers embedded in the concrete of water troughs to read temperature-sensitive microchips implanted in the necks of foals and yearlings.

The study followed 43 Anglo-Arabian foals over two consecutive winter periods starting when the were 4-6 months old. The study ran from December to February when the foals were housed in straw-bedded yards with access to outdoor paddocks.

The research team also monitored temperatures of the male foals around the time they were castrated (in March). They also checked the microchip temperature reading correlated with the rectal temperature – reading both temperatures simultaneously in 79 foals.

Over 100,000 readings were taken. No individual foal animal was identified as sick during the study.

The researchers found that time of day significantly affected body temperature, with daily temperature variation of up to 1˚C. Temperatures were lowest before dawn. Peak temperatures were recorded about 12-14 hours later. A second, smaller temperature peak occurred around midday.

Males on average had temperatures slightly higher (+0.26˚C on average) than females. This could not be explained by any difference in conditions in the pens, (males were kept in one pen, and females in two other pens), neither did the research team notice any difference in activity between the groups of foals.

A full report of the research is published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. The authors suggest that this non-invasive technique does not require extra-handling and will allow a better monitoring of normal body temperature.

For more details, see:

No-Contact Microchip Monitoring of Body Temperature in Yearling Horses.
Auclair-Ronzaud J, Benoist S, Dubois C, Frejaville M, Jousset T, Jaffrézic F, Wimel L, Chavatte-Palmer P.
J Equine Vet Sci. (2020)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Participants sought for equine behaviour study

Since ancient times, horse behaviour, and the bond between horses and humans, has 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.

To explore the influence of training and management on horse behaviour, Professor Paul McGreevy and his research team at the University of Sydney have launched the Equine Behavior Assessment and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ), a global database of horse behaviour. 

The study aims to reveal information on how training and management affects behaviour and how, in turn, behaviour affects horse welfare.

It will show how breeds differ in responses and illuminate breed-typical personality types, how male and female horses differ, how horses used in different disciplines (such as show-jumping versus dressage) differ in their behaviour and how horse behaviour changes with maturation and training.

Beyond the immediate and direct research outcomes, the researchers suggest that E-BARQ also offers great benefits to horse owners, riders and trainers.

Owners will be able to compare their horse’s behaviour with that of other horses around the world. The “share-&-compare” graphs will reveal attributes such as trainability, rideability, handling, compliance, boldness, and human social confidence.

E-BARQ is open to all horse owners/handlers, regardless of their horses’ breed, height or age, and provides users with a free dashboard to store their horses’ results and track their progress.

Participants will gain an insight into where their horses are performing well and where they may need help. They will also be able to monitor their horse’s progress over time by returning to their E-BARQ dashboard every 6 months and re-taking the questionnaire, updating their scores.

You can access E-BARQ here:

You can watch an E-BARQ how-to video here: