Motivation, Stress and Learning – Critical Characteristics that Influence the Horses’ Value and Training Method – A Review

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Equine husbandry is carried out in an environment unnatural to horses, which enforces their adaptation to artificial conditions. Besides housing conditions, the management and human-horse relationship is very important for both human safety and a high level of animal welfare and performance. This would not be possible if horses were not able to learn. For equestrians, independently of the horse’s use (sport, work, recreation, therapy etc.) the performance is of the highest importance. Deep knowledge about learning mechanisms is essential to maintain high level of horses’ welfare and to achieve effective training. Cognition can be influenced by motivation and stress. Motivational mechanisms are based on positive or negative reinforcement but still it is not known what motivates horses more and how food motivation influences learning. It was already shown that a low level of motivation decreases animal performance. The effect of stress is an increasingly popular research topic. It has been shown that acute stress decreases horses’ learning performance, but the exact standard is still unknown. The Yerkes-Dodson law claims that low and too high arousal decreases learning. What is more, the relation between learning and sex, breed and some temperamental traits has been shown in several studies.

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