When a horse travels alone, putting a mirror in the horsebox reduces stress. That is the finding of a study carried out by Rachel Kay, winner of the Royal Agricultural Society’s Eqvalan Duo Equine Thesis of the Year Award.

Judges Professor Graham Suggett, BETA chief executive Claire Williams and Dr Emma Batson of Merial Animal Health chose Miss Kay’s study, The effect of creating surrogate companionship on equine physiology and behaviour of horses during transportation, over four other finalists.

Nottingham Trent University student Miss Kay, 34, hit on the idea for her research during the first year of her equine sport science degree.

“One of my classmates had an eventer who didn’t travel well on his own, but she didn’t have another horse,” said Miss Kay.

She carried out her research on 12 horses who had not travelled for at least two years. Each horse underwent three 30min trailer journeys a few days apart — one journey alone, one with another horse and one with a safety mirror.

Miss Kay studied the horses’ behaviour by video camera and monitored their heart rates. She noted that, with both the mirror and the live companion, the horses’ heart rates were reduced, they ate more hay and displayed less stressed behaviour, such as head-tossing, looking round and whinnying.

“The horses were much better off with a real horse than during the other two journeys, but it’s better to use a mirror if you are unable to take another horse,” said Miss Kay.

Claire Williams said: “Rachel showed true originality. Her idea stood out because of its usefulness. Her presentation was very good and she coped well with questions — she was a well-deserving winner in a very tough competition.”