Trivia Challenge: Are *You* Equine-Behavior Savvy?

Answer the questions, then check at bottom for the key. For more fun and educational information about horses and horsemanship, read H&R’s ‘The Ride’ newsletter. (Not getting it? Sign up below.)

Illustration by Navah Rae Adams

1. True or false: Food is the single most motivating force for horses—even stronger than the desire of a cribber to engage in cribbing.

T / F

2. A horse standing with one hind leg cocked is most likely

A) preparing to kick.

B) relaxing.

C) lame.

3. True or false: Horses tend to be more anxious around handlers who aren’t experienced with horses.

T / F

4. Feeding your horse treats from your own mouth or teaching him to kiss you is OK only if

A) he has a quiet, predictable disposition.

B) you’ve already taught him to respect you.

C) actually, these are never smart things to do.

HOW’D YOU DO? (Answers below.)

1. T is correct. A series of experiments involving operant conditioning at Cornell University showed that food is more motivating to horses than turnout, social interaction with another horse, or even engaging in a cribbing habit. (Learn how such factors apply to feeding horses in a group.)

2. B is correct. A cocked hind leg most likely indicates a state of relaxation, but you shouldn’t assume this without checking the horse’s overall demeanor for verification, as aggression and lameness can also cause this behavior. (Find out more about equine body language.)

3. F is correct. No, seriously! A study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that although therapy horses are more attentive to experienced handlers, they were calmer with inexperienced handlers. (Seem wrong? Learn more about how to keep your horse calm and alert as opposed to anxious and alert.)

4. C is correct. But you knew this! Never encourage nipping. Nipping or biting—sometimes hard!—is good, natural fun among horses, so don’t ever give yours even an indirect suggestion to try it with you. The downside risks of injury are just too great. (Instead, learn the sorts of “horseplay” you CAN safely engage in with your horse.)

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