We know that stallions can be more dominant, forceful and aggressive than mares, which is why most male horses are gelded. But are there gender differences in how yearlings respond to early handling, before puberty?
Behaviourists in Vienna have discovered that differences between the sexes do exist, even at such an early age.
They compared the responses of yearling warmbloods from the same stud that had been treated in the same way and had just one familiar handler from weaning.
All had been taught to accept and respond to a headcollar, to be groomed and to allow their feet to be picked up and picked out.
The yearlings were introduced one by one to an unfamiliar woman, who stood still in the corner of a familiar yard while the yearling was free to move around. After 5min, the woman attempted to put a headcollar on the yearling and groom it.
The tests were repeated on 5 consecutive days. Each time, the whole procedure was filmed, the youngsters’ behaviours were recorded and their heart rates measured remotely.
The results were clear — colts were more cautious than fillies, showed less exploratory behaviour towards the new person on the first day and took longer to accept the headcollar.
They were initially less relaxed about picking up their front feet, although they quickly learnt to accept this.
Both colts and fillies, however, were equally resistant to allowing the new person to handle their back legs.
While there was no difference between genders in the overall outcome of the 5-day learning process, the colts were definitely more reserved and suspicious to start with.