Study: Horse's Behavior Can't be Determined by the Color of its Coat

The findings prove that chestnut horses aren’t “crazy,” but are bolder than other horses.

By Karlyne at fr.wikipedia (Transfered from fr.wikipedia) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons

Does a particular color of a horse’s coat make it more prone to being “crazy?” That’s what researchers sought to find out, and discovered the coat has nothing to do with a horse’s personality.

Researchers, in their paper titled “The relationship between coat colour phenotype and equine behaviour: A pilot study,” published in published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, asked horse owners to fill out a questionnaire that covered several sections, including:

  • Horse handling experience
  • Basic horse information
  • Equipment used when handling or riding the horse
  • Behavioral responses in general and specific circumstances

The responses helped researchers determine that the color of a horse’s coat had little to do with their behavior.

Instead the breed, sex and age of a horse "significantly influence many of its behavior," according to the researchers.

This new data may (or may not) change how people feel about chestnut horses. Female chestnut horses are often described as "crazy," but while researchers found chestnut horses there are behavioral differences between chestnuts and bay horses, “Chestnut horses are not more likely than bay horses to display adverse behaviors.

So how did chestnut horses get such a bad rap?

"I guess it comes from that general notion that redheads are a little bit fiery; it's not uncommon to hear about people talking about a fiery redhead, so chestnuts are just a red-headed horse," Claire Wade, professor in veterinary science at the University of Sydney told ABC Rural. “The study by Brandon Velie [from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences] proved there really wasn't a big difference between chestnut horses and bay horses, so the commonly held belief is not quite true.”

However, as the researchers write in the study’s abstract, “chestnut horses were more likely to approach objects and animals in their environment, regardless of their familiarity. This suggests that selection for the chestnut phenotype in horses may have inadvertently involved selection for boldness and altered the way horses interact with their surroundings.”

Will it change people’s minds on chestnuts? Probably not.

"I'm pretty sure people will keep their views regardless of what science does," Wade told ABC Rural. "But if you're a horse trainer, it's pretty interesting to know that having a chestnut is no different to a horse of any other color."

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