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Horses differ in the way they respond to novel or stressful situations. Some horses react strongly and have problems adapting to these situations, while other horses exhibit more flexible behavior and quickly adapt. If horses consistently fail to adapt, their mental health will be affected and some horses might develop concerning behaviors, such as crib-biting or weaving, that result in health problems. Researchers will study whether behavioral inhibition (the ability to control prepotent behavioral responses) is linked to differences in coping capacity in individual horses. They will conduct behavioral inhibition tests, assess individual horse personalities, observe any stress behavior in daily activities, and measure long-term stress using hormonal analyses. Researchers hope to use these finding to develop an early warning strategy to help identify horses that might fail to cope with novel situations. Their goal is to help reduce the risk of subsequent mental and/or physical health problems and develop training programs to enhance a horse’s flexibility to adjust to new and sometimes stressful situations. 

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University of Giessen
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Désirée Brucks, PhDc