Accuracy of horse affect assessments: a comparison of equine assisted mental health professionals, non-equine assisted mental health professionals, and laypeople

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Fox, Sebastian A.
University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Education
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Faculty of Education
In order to know whether a horse’s welfare has been compromised, the professional needs to be able to assess the animal’s behaviour and meaningfully interpret it. Misinterpretation of a horse’s mental state may lead to further misunderstandings of the animal’s behaviour, breakdowns in horse-human communication, and jeopardized wellbeing (Gronqvist et al., 2016; see also Horseman et al., 2016; Mcbride & Long, 2001; Merkies et al., 2018). This study investigated the abilities of (EAMHPs) to assess the affective states of horses. First, an instrument for measuring accuracy was developed by showing a panel of 12 equine behaviour experts 20 videos of horses and asking them to describe the emotional states of the animals. Using the QBA and FCP method, the 10 videos with the highest inter-observer consensus and their associated terms (used to create answer keys) were retained. In the prediction testing phase, those 10 videos were shown to EAMHPs (n = 55), laypeople (n = 94), and non-equine assisted mental health professionals (NEAMHPs; n = 51), who were also asked to generate affectively descriptive terms. These three groups were then graded using the answer keys and awarded total assessment accuracy scores representing how similar their answers were to those of the experts. The participants of the three groups also self-rated their perceived level of horse experience and filled out a related questionnaire. The results found that EAMHPs and laypeople scored significantly higher than the NEAMHPs. However, when horse experience scores were controlled for, the EAMHPs no longer scored significantly higher than the NEAMHPs. Profession and horse experience scores significantly accounted for variation in the total assessment accuracy scores, and the horse experience scores were positively correlated with self-rated levels of horse experience. Those participants who believed they had a high level of horse experience scored significantly higher than those who said they had no horse experience or a low level of experience. The finding that EAMHPs and NEAMHPs score similarly, yet laypeople (significantly) outperform the latter and the former (non-significantly) when assessing the affective states of horses is perplexing. More research is needed to further investigate the involvement of horses in equine assisted therapy practices to ensure that their use remains ethical and that their welfare is not being compromised in exchange for aiding clients.
Equine-assisted therapy , Equine , Affect , Emotional state , Accuracy , Assessment accuracy , Horse , Co-therapist , Animal-assisted therapy , Equine assisted mental health professionals , Non-equine assisted mental health professionals , Laypeople