Skip to main content
The Qualitative Assessment of Responsiveness to Environmental Challenge in Horses and Ponies
  • Fabio Napolitano, University of Basilicata
  • Giuseppe De Rosa, University of Naples Federico II
  • Ada Braghieri, University of Basilicata
  • Fernando Grasso, University of Naples Federico II
  • Aldo Bordi, University of Naples Federico II
  • Françoise Wemelsfelder, Scottish Agricultural College
Document Type
Publication Date
The responsiveness of 10 horses and 10 ponies to environmental challenge (represented by an open field test) was assessed using a qualitative approach based on free choice profiling methodology (FCP), which gives observers complete freedom to choose their own descriptive terms. Data were analysed with generalised Procrustes analysis (GPA), a multivariate statistical technique associated with FCP. A cross-validation of the outcomes of this approach to data recorded through quantitative behaviour analysis, and through a questionnaire given to the animals’ owner/riding instructor, was also performed using principal component analysis (PCA). Twelve undergraduate students generated their own descriptive vocabularies, by watching 20 horse/pony video clips lasting 2.5 min each. GPA showed that the consensus profile explained a high percentage of variation among the 12 observers, and differed significantly from the mean randomised profile ( p < 0.001). Two main dimensions of the consensus profile were identified, explaining 60% and 5.2% of the variation between animals, respectively. The 12 observer word charts interpreting these dimensions were semantically consistent, as they all converged towards the same meaning, albeit using different terms. The most used term to describe the positive end of axis 1 was ‘‘quiet’’, whereas ‘‘attentive’’ was the best positive descriptor of axis 2. The most frequently used descriptors for the negative ends of axes 1 and 2 were ‘‘nervous’’ and ‘‘bored’’, respectively. Thus, axis 1 was labelled as ‘‘quiet/nervous’’ and axis 2 was named as ‘‘attentive/bored’’. A marked effect of animal category was observed on the scores of the animals on the first dimension ( p < 0.001). Horses received significantly higher scores, and were thus assessed as more quiet and calm, than ponies. Conversely, ponies tended to receive lower scores on the second dimension ( p < 0.12), therefore they appeared less curious and attentive. The results of the PCA showed that the variables from different types of measurement clearly had meaningful relationships. For instance, the variables with the highest loading on the positive end of axis 1 were all indicative of tractable and docile animals, whereas axis 2 showed high loadings on the positive end for variables indicating attentive animals. Qualitative behaviour assessment proved to be an appropriate methodology for the study of horse behavioural responsiveness, in that it provided a multifaceted characterisation of horse behavioural expression that was in agreement with other quantitative and subjective assessments of the animals’ behaviour.

This file contains a post-print version of the article, which has the same content as the final edited version but is not formatted according to the layout of the published journal.

Citation Information
Napolitano, F., De Rosa, G., Braghieri, A., Grasso, F., Bordi, A., & Wemelsfelder, F. (2008). The qualitative assessment of responsiveness to environmental challenge in horses and ponies. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 109(2), 342-354.