The horse and ethology: My own experience


The horse and ethology - my own experience

Having spent two decades working with horses as a rider and teacher, and running an equestrian establishment, I wanted to meet people who studied animal behaviour focussing on the horse.   

To start with, I found that the meaning of the word "ethology" had varying definitions in France according to the people who practised it, in very different ways.  On one side, there was an American school who used very specific methods according to their equestrian culture across the Atlantic, and on the other, a scientific approach in French universities.  

I preferred to choose the scientific approach which I felt would give me a more accurate definition than what I had been told about the horse.  

From then on, my life consisted of meeting incredibly interesting and instructive people.  I worked closely with the research team of ANR COW (animals at work) where animal behaviour specialists, anthropologists, sociologists and philosophers had opened the field of new ways of thinking.   

But the most extraordinary meeting of all was with Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa, President of the International Association of Primatology, and his team at the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University.  A completely different view of non-human beings was opened up to me.  Professor Masaki Tomonaga honoured me by including me in his team who were doing research on the horse.  He taught me the meaning of scientific rigour and the responsibility of science in human knowledge.  He worked on a programme drawing comparisons between the chimpanzee and the horse.  We could see, for example, that horses are just as capable of using a tactile screen as chimpanzees.   

The view from Japan of non-human beings showed that the horse is an animal to which we could pay more attention. 

The scenarios that he drew up made the horse a far more passionate being than the rather simplistic image commonly portrayed in France.  

I told the Professor that the horse was fortunate that such a close interest was being taken in him.   

Yes, I hope one day the horse will have his Jane Goodall, who did so much for chimpanzees in getting them looked at in a different and more open way.  Furthermore, this primatologist* proved that the chimpanzee could use tools, hunt game and demonstrate empathy. 

*  Primatologists are ethologists.

Sophie Nicod - 02.12.2016

About the Author

Sophie Barreau, mission manager, ethologist, BFEE2 and BEES1 instructor, joined our team in October 2016.  Her tasks were to work on the research programme CHEVALEDUC with Jocelyne Porcher INRA and to teach student equine ethology as well as the scientific advances made in the relationship of man and horse at work. 

In the articles « Through Sophie’s eyes », she shares her passion with us.


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