Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


48th Annual Convention; Boston, MA; 2022

Event Details

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Symposium #331
CE Offered: BACB
Applications of Behavior Analysis for Modifying Equine Behavior
Sunday, May 29, 2022
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Meeting Level 1; Room 154
Area: AAB; Domain: Translational
Chair: Erica N. Feuerbacher (Virginia Tech)
CE Instructor: Erica N. Feuerbacher, Ph.D.
Abstract: The principles of behavior analysis apply across species, however little research has been conducted in equines using behavior analytic techniques or addressing questions pertinent to our field. Horses offer a fertile area for behavior analytic research, including how to use systematic observations to understand and predict factors that are associated with behavioral or medical issues; identifying and utilizing positive reinforcers in training; and how we can use our behavioral principles to change equine behavior, such as reducing stereotypies, improving human-horse interactions, and changing stall or pasture behavior. Our symposium highlights three different applications of behavior analysis for equine behavior: first, we discuss the utility of systematic behavioral observations to predict colic, a severe medical issue and frequent cause of death in horses; second, we look at basic research in which we assess reinforcer efficacy of different feed for training; and finally whether using remote feeders can change pasture usage by horses, such that horse owners could improve the quality of their pasture without having to fence horses from certain areas. The work points to the fruitful research and application area that equine behavior offers to behavior analysis.
Instruction Level: Basic
Keyword(s): colic, equine behavior, reinforcer efficacy, remote feeder
Target Audience: Any experimental or applied behavior analyst
Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: 1. Learn how behavior can predict medical issues such as colic in horses; 2. Identify effective reinforcers for horses; 3. Assess the utility of using remote feeders to change pasture behavior in horses.
Graphing Biobehavioral Data in an Equine: Identification of Colic Episodes
(Applied Research)
CATHERINE KISHEL (The University of Florida), Timothy R. Vollmer (University of Florida)
Abstract: In large animal medicine, colic is a general term referring to abdominal distress that can be caused by a variety of factors (Tinker et al., 1997). In horses located in the Southeastern United States, consumption of coastal hay is a risk factor for a type of colic known as an impaction (Hanson et al., 1996). Impaction colic episodes range in severity from mild to fatal; early identification and treatment by a veterinarian is essential to promoting survival (Furr, Lessard, & White, 1995). The present talk details a data collection system piloted with an adult draft horse mare living in north central Florida with a history of coastal hay impaction colic. Daily data were collected on hay consumption, water intake, and manure output in order to rapidly identify the onset of a colic episode and seek veterinary care as quickly as possible. Results demonstrate the utility of this approach as a colic episode was identified immediately, veterinary care sought promptly, and the horse returned to health. Extensions include the application of this data collection system to other species and medical issues.

Using Remote Feeders to Change Pasture Usage by Horses

(Applied Research)
REBECCA THOMPSON (Virginia Tech), Erica N. Feuerbacher (Virginia Tech)

Horses often graze certain areas of a pasture leaving some areas ungrazed. Changing grazing patterns without having to erect fencing would have benefits to prevent overgrazing. The objective of our study was to determine if the placement of automatic feeders could change the most frequently used grazing area of a three-horse herd. Prior to the intervention, the geldings were fed twice daily. Each horse’s location was monitored by direct observation and also a GPS sensor. The GPS sensors collected six data points per second and the data was used to create a heat map of the horse most frequently grazed locations. For direct observation, the three-acre field was divided into quadrants and observers recorded the quadrant location of each horse every minute. We then mounted three automatic feeders on the fence line in the least used quadrant of the field and trained the horses to eat off mats placed below the automatic feeder. The automatic feeders cycled at 8 am, 10 am, noon, 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm. We continued to monitor the horses’ pasture usage through direct observation and GPS tracking. We also measured rate of inter-horse aggression before and after the feeders were introduced.


Assessing Reinforcer Efficacy of SixDifferent Grains for Horses

(Basic Research)
JOANNA PLATZER (Virginia Tech), Erica N. Feuerbacher (Virginia Tech)

Humans have trained horses for centuries, and training techniques are constantly being refined. Positive reinforcement training, including “clicker training,” is growing in popularity in the equine world. The aim of the study was to determine the reinforcer efficacy of six commercially available grains that could be used in positive reinforcement training. The grains differed in texture, macronutrients, and calories. We trained four thoroughbred geldings to touch their nose to a target, after which we implemented a progressive ratio schedule of reinforcement, and delivered different grains as the consequence. We measured break points (highest schedule completed in each session) as a way to assess the relative reinforcer efficacy of each grain. We also converted break points to unit price (per kcal) to determine if caloric value of the grains impacted reinforcer efficacy. Our results showed overall little difference in reinforcer efficacy of the different grains, but found that all grains tested were reinforcing to the horses. Our results did not find support for the hypothesis that horses selectively choose feed based on caloric content.




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