Preconceived versus Actual Behavioural Differences between Geldings and Mares
Horse trainers, owners and riders may have preconceived ideas about horse behaviour, temperament and rideability, based solely on the sex of the horse. Sex preferences relating to the use of horses for various horse sports are commonly known to exist. For example, mares are widely used for polo, equally valued in both racing and show-jumping but, to some extent, less valued in dressage and eventing. Such ideas can have welfare implications if a gender (sex) bias affects the person’s interactions with particular horses, e.g. use of harsher training methods or increases horse wastage.
A recent study in Australia explored this theory using reports of ridden and non-ridden horse behaviour from 1233 riders and trainers, 75% of whom had more than 8 years riding experience. The equine-associated personnel completed a 151-item questionnaire known as the Equine Behaviour Assessment and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ) survey. Data were searched for responses relating to horse sex and univariate analysis and multivariable modelling performed. Results revealed that mares were significantly more likely to move away when being caught compared with geldings (p = 0.003). Geldings were significantly more likely to chew on lead ropes when tied (p = 0.003) and to chew on rugs (p = 0.024) than mares. However, despite sex-related differences in these non-ridden behaviours, there was no evidence of any significant sex-related differences in ridden behaviours. These finding suggests that ridden horse behaviour is not affected by sex. Whilst these findings may reflect different sex preferences in horses used for sport, they may also reduce the chances of some horses reaching their performance potential. Furthermore, the authors suggest that an unfounded sex prejudice is likely to contribute to unconscious bias when perceiving unwanted behaviours, simplistically attributing them to the sex rather than more complex legacies of training and prior learning.
Aune A, Fenner K, Wilson B, Cameron E, McLean A, McGreevy P. Reported Behavioural Differences between Geldings and Mares Challenge Sex-Driven Stereotypes in Ridden Equine Behaviour. Animals (Basel). 2020;10(3):E414. Published 2020 Mar 2. doi:10.3390/ani10030414.