(Calgary) Rodeo fans get a thrill when they see a wild horse rush into the ring, with a cowboy temporarily on its back. But it is difficult to know how the animal is feeling.
Recently published University of Calgary research looked at three years of events at the Stampede in order to scrutinize the animal’s mind.
Ed Pajor, a professor of veterinary medicine, explains that he tried to understand the animal’s point of view on whether it was a negative experience for him or not.
Mr. Pajor and his co-authors – Christy Goldhawk, also from the University of Calgary and renowned animal behavior specialist Temple Grandin – studied 116 horses. They watched the animals about to be loaded into a trailer and taken to the ring. They also observed how the horses behaved when they waited to be untied.
Horses have all kinds of ways of showing they are unhappy, Pajor said. They can go back and forth, bite their lips, whip their tails, defecate, roll their eyes, kick their paws on the ground, shake their heads, or rear up in protest.
The researchers found that the more people around them, the more likely the horses were to feel uncomfortable. This is probably because they spend most of their time in fields and pastures and are not used to the hustle and bustle, Pajor said.
The other factor that affected behavior was experience. If it wasn’t their first rodeo, the horses were much less likely to react.
“We haven’t seen a lot of escape attempts. We haven’t seen a lot of fear-related behaviors, not at all, the researcher explained. The animals were quite calm. ”
“Animals that had little experience were much more responsive than animals that had a lot of experience. ”
There could be different reasons for this, he suggested.
We don’t know if it’s because they’re used to the situation or if it’s because of their learned helplessness – they realize there is nothing they can do and give up.
Ed Pajor, professor of veterinary medicine
Mr. Pajor believes more in the first hypothesis.
The researchers also noted that the horses ‘performance, as revealed by the rodeo judges’ score, did not appear to be diminished by repeated appearances, as might be the case if the animals had become listless.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the horses are having a good time, said Pajor, who is also on the Stampede’s Animal Welfare Advisory Board. There are many ways to interpret their behavior, he points out.
“An animal can be excited to perform. Or an animal may have a fear reaction. ”
Mr. Pajor knows there are different rodeo and animal camps.
“People have very strong opinions about the use of animals for all kinds of reasons. I think no matter what we’re going to use the animals for, we should really make sure we treat them humanely, ”he pleaded.