The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Behavioural study aims to benefit racehorse welfare

Experts seek to develop method of judging equine mood based on behavioural indicators.

Welfare in racehorses could be improved with a study of their body language and behaviour.

Scientists aim to develop a system for judging horses’ emotional state and preferences, based on subtle changes in behaviours, as an aid to horse welfare.

Researchers at the Dick Vet, and collaborators at SRUC, will develop their method based on experimental studies of horse behaviour, and consultations with those in the racehorse industry, such as riders and stable workers.

In the project, funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Equine Welfare Research Foundation, researchers will seek to better understand how to interpret a horse’s mood based on behavioural indicators.

These could include a horse’s facial expression, ear posture or muscle tension, as an holistic expression of the animal’s emotional state.


Researchers will seek to collect evidence from interviews with staff from the racing industry to understand how they view welfare and what indicators they currently use. The team will also conduct observational studies, of racehorses engaged in their normal daily routines, to develop reliable, robust and objective measures that allow horses to be assessed under various conditions. 

This will allow reliable decisions to be made relating to welfare of individual animals, regardless of who is making them, rather than choices based on subjective opinions.

Findings from the study may be applied in future research to understand the impact of training, and management of racehorses on welfare throughout their lives.

Body language in horses can be a clear way to understand their emotional state. Using sophisticated and detailed measures of these behavioural responses may allow us to interpret the animal’s mood, and give us an insight into their welfare.

Professor Cathy DwyerRoyal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Image credit: WikiMedia Commons

About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.    

The School comprises:   

  The Roslin Institute   

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems   

The Roslin Innovation Centre   

The Hospital for Small Animals   

Equine Veterinary Services   

Farm Animal Services   

Easter Bush Pathology   

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education   

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.