J. Aurich/Vetmeduni Vienna

ScienceShot: No Stage Fright for Performing Horses

Show horses may not be totally in sync with their riders, at least when it comes to nerves. Researchers reporting in a paper in press at The Veterinary Journal measured stress hormones and heart rates in six horses (one pictured) and professional riders from the classical dressage team of the French National Riding School in Saumur, France. They took the readings both after a practice session with no audience and after a performance in front of about 1000 spectators. While the riders' heart rates indicated stage fright in the live performance, the horses showed about the same levels of stress in both situations. Of course, there's no reason that horses should care what strangers think about the show, but the researchers were surprised that the riders didn't pass their performance anxiety to their steeds. The next step would be to test neophytes: It could be that expert equestrians are especially good at keeping their charges calm.

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