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Front. Vet. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fvets.2019.00162

Elevated sensitivity to tactile stimuli in stereotypic horses

 Sabrina Briefer Freymond1*, Déborah Bardou1, Sandrine Beuret1, Klaus Zuberbühler2,  Bachmann Iris1 and  Elodie F. Briefer3
  • 1Agroscope, Switzerland
  • 2Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • 3ETH Zürich, Switzerland

Although stereotypic behaviours are a common problem in captive animals, why certain individuals are more prone to develop them remains elusive. In horses, individuals show considerable differences in how they perceive and react to external events, suggesting that this may partially account for the emergence of stereotypies in this species. In this study, we focussed on crib-biting, the most common stereotypy displayed by horses. We compared how established crib-biters (“CB”=19) and normal controls (“C”=18) differed in response to a standard ‘personality’ assessment test battery, i.e. reactivity to humans, tactile sensitivity, social reactivity, locomotor activity, and curiosity versus fearfulness (both in novel and suddenness situations). Our analyses showed that crib-biters only differed from control horses in their tactile sensitivity, suggesting an elevated sensitivity to tactile stimuli. We suggest that this higher tactile sensitivity could be due to altered dopamine or endogenous opioid physiology, resulting from chronic stress exposition. We discuss these findings in relation to the hypothesis that there may be a genetic predisposition for stereotypic behaviour in horses, and in relation to current animal husbandry and management practises.

Keywords: Personality, stereotypie, Crib biting, Horses, Coping styles, β endorphin

Received: 17 Dec 2018; Accepted: 10 May 2019.

Edited by:

Sabine G. Gebhardt-Henrich, University of Bern, Switzerland

Reviewed by:

Carissa Wickens, University of Florida, United States
Katherine A. Houpt, Cornell University, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Briefer Freymond, Bardou, Beuret, Zuberbühler, Iris and Briefer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Sabrina Briefer Freymond, Agroscope, Zürich, Switzerland,