Differences in temperament traits between crib-biting and control horses

Krisztina Nagy, Gábor Bodó, György Bárdos, Noémi Bánszky, Péter Kabai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)


Recent studies have suggested that crib-biting in horses is associated with diminished capacity of learning or coping with stress. Such findings raise the question whether trainability, which is fundamentally important in practice, could also be affected by stereotypic behaviour. Trainability of a horse is difficult to assess in simple tests, however, it is reliably estimated by experienced riders. To assess trainability and other characteristics related to that, a questionnaire survey was conducted with the owners of 50 crib-biting and 50 control horses. Where possible, control horses were selected from the same establishment as crib-biters. Groups did not differ significantly regarding age, breed, gender, training level or usage. Principal component analysis revealed three main factors which can be labelled as 'Anxiety', 'Affability' and 'Trainability'. The 'Anxiety' factor consisted of the items 'Nervousness', 'Excitability', 'Panic', 'Inconsistent emotionality', 'Vigilance', 'Skittishness', and 'Timidity'. 'Affability' consisted of 'Friendliness toward people', 'Cooperation', 'Docility' and 'Friendliness toward horses'. 'Trainability' involved 'Concentration', 'Trainability', 'Memory', and 'Perseverance'. Temperament traits were not affected by age, gender, breed or training level, but the usage of the horse and the presence of crib-biting behaviour had significant effects. Competition horses had lower level of 'Anxiety' (p = 0.032) and higher level of 'Trainability' (p = 0.068) than leisure horses. Crib-biting horses had significantly lower level of 'Anxiety' than control horses (p < 0.001), while 'Trainability' and 'Affability' did not differ between groups (p = 0.823 and p = 0.543, respectively). Competition horses are more often exposed to novel environment and to frightening stimuli (e.g. colourful obstacles) than leisure horses and therefore might have also become more habituated to these types of stimuli. Coping with novel situation may be enhanced by defusing nervous behaviour by the more experienced riders of competition. Previous studies indicated crib-biting horses to be less reactive when challenged as compared to control horses. We suggest that the virtual calmness and lower nervousness of the crib-biting horses might be due to the passive coping style of these animals. 'Affability' of horses might be more related to housing and management conditions than to crib-biting. Contrary to expectations, scores on 'Trainability' had not coincided with the impaired learning of crib-biting horses reported in laboratory tests. However, previous behavioural tests on equine learning rarely had a direct relevance to the training abilities of the horses. Our results do not support crib-biting stereotypy to affect performance in training, which is a complex learning process involving cooperation and docility in the social environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-47
Number of pages7
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 15 2010


  • Coping strategies
  • Crib-biting
  • Equine temperament
  • Stereotypic behaviour
  • Trainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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