Sunday, April 17, 2016

Chestnut Horse Coat Color Related to Temperament

Blessi takes me through fire at a police horse training clinic.
“Oh my mare is a fiery redhead” or “My chestnut gelding is hard to train” are comments that you’ll hear owners say about their chestnut horses.  But are these statements supported by science?  Interestingly researchers have found that genes influencing melanocytes that determine coat colors are related to certain behavioral traits in other species.  For example tortoiseshell and calico cats are really divas.   But what about horses?

JL Finn et al adapted the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (a validated dog behavior survey) contained 90 behavioral assessment questions.  Over 900 responses were returned from owners of Arabians, Australian stock horses, ponies, Warmbloods, Crossbred, Thoroughbreds, Irish Sport horses, and Quarter Horses.  The researchers used the 477 responses returned by owners of bay and chestnut horses (stallions were excluded).  The greatest influence on behavior was gender, age, and breed.
There was basically no difference in ease of handling or training between chestnuts and bays. Chestnuts were a bit more difficult when their feet were picked up by strangers but the researchers felt that was due to a sampling error.   However owner reported results seem to indicate that chestnuts are bolder than bays since they are reported to approach new objects more readily. 

“The current results suggest that chestnut horses are more likely to approach objects and animals in their environment, regardless of their familiarity. This is particularly worth noting as prior to domestication and selection, the vast majority of horses expressed the bay phenotype and the increase in coat-colour variability is widely considered a direct consequence of domestication (Cieslak et al., 2011Ludwig et al., 2009Pruvost et al., 2011). As a result, it is possible that selection for the chestnut phenotype may have inadvertently involved selection for boldness as well.” 

More research is of course needed to confirm these results.


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