Research review – The impact of the sex of handlers and riders


The impact of the sex of handlers and riders on the reported social confidence, compliance and touch sensitivity of horses in their care

Authors: Ashley Anzulewicz, Kate Fenner, Michelle Hyde, Susan Heald, Bibiana Burattini, Nicole
Romness, Jessica McKenzie, Bethany Wilson, Paul McGreevy
Affiliations: Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Australia and Community
Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, Canada.
Publication Date: 2021
Access: Open Access (Free full paper)

Any influence of the sex of the human partner in human–horse interactions on the behaviour of horses is currently largely anecdotal. Associations between the sex of humans and equine behaviour
may have welfare implications. Our study investigates observations of ridden and non-ridden horse behaviour, as reported by respondents (n = 1420) to the Equine Behaviour and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ). Results reveal some human sex-related differences between horses
handled and ridden by male and female humans. Horses ridden or handled by male humans were more likely to be difficult to catch and defensive when approached, but less likely to pull on the reins/brace the neck or toss their head. The study revealed the importance of considering the sex of the rider or handler when investigating equine behaviour.

Key soundbites from the paper:
“….the current study showed differences in ridden and non-ridden horse behaviour that were related to the sex of the rider or handler.”
“…horses handled by male humans were significantly more difficult to catch and significantly more defensive when approached than horses handled more frequently by females”
“horses handled by male humans were but significantly less likely to pull on the reins/brace the neck or toss their head than horses handled more frequently by female humans.”
“The differences found between male and female horse handlers suggest that sex is an important factor to consider when understanding equine behaviour.”
“The current results show that when horses were handled more by male humans, handling compliance increased, but the human social confidence of horses decreased.”
“The results suggest that domestic equine behaviour is influenced by the sex of the rider or handler. However, more study is required to establish whether this influence results from the sex or the gender of the humans.”
“Equine welfare and rider safety can be improved by taking the sex and gender of humans into consideration when seeking to evaluate the origins of equine behaviour.”


This study used a 97 question questionnaire to collect information on 1,420 riders and handlers and behavioural data on their horses on the ground/unridden and when ridden or driven. Even excluding differences in behaviour between males and females, horses could perceive males and females differently due to differences in size (men after on average larger/taller), pheromones, gait/motion and frequency and or tone of voice.





About Author

Dr David Marlin is a physiologist and biochemist who has worked in academia, research and professional sport. He has worked in the equestrian and veterinary world and in human sport, healthcare, medicine and exercise science. In 1989 David obtained his PhD from the UK’s leading sports university, Loughborough University following a four-year study on the responses of Thoroughbred racehorses to exercise and training, undertaken at the renowned Animal Health Trust in Newmarket. You can read David's full biography in the Our Website section.