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The Zipping Classic

November 14th, 2015 2 comments

In the original Watching Racehorses I described a landmark study over 20 years ago by Claudia Feh and Jeanne de Mazières of wild Camargue horses. The horses developed strong bonds with others of a similar age and sex and maintained these bonds through mutual grooming. Two horses would stand head to tail and nibble each other with their incisors, generally in the region of the base of the neck. The grooming seemed to have a remarkable calming effect. Claudia and Jeanne observed that the preferred grooming site was the base of the partner’s neck, in front of the shoulder blade, and including part of the withers. When horses were scratched by humans in this region they had lower heart rates than horses groomed at a non-preferred site low on the shoulder. They suggested the calming effect was the result of a major ganglion of the autonomic nervous system lying close to the preferred site. Hence, strappers who are aware of this effect get very high marks in my race book.

So, here’s Tall Ship, trained by the man of the moment, DK Weir. The strapper was vigorously scratching him with both hands at the preferred site, first on the near side, then on the off side. The horse was calm, motionless, head and neck slightly extended and tilted away, shrunken nostrils. If you look carefully at the off side photo the horse seems to be in a state of exquisite pleasure! The strapper can go straight to the top of the class! The horse ran second to the runaway winner Who Shot The Barman, but no one is complaining about $2.40 for the place.

Reference: Feh, C. and de Mazières, J. (1993). Grooming at a preferred site reduces heart rate in horses. Animal Behaviour 46, 1191-1194.


2 Responses to “ The Zipping Classic ”

  1. Laurie says:

    Over a month since an entry…..hope all is well.

  2. TonyA says:

    Amazing, that of the observations that we exchanged over the years, this Carmague mutual grooming calmative stuck in my memory … not that I was able to use it to advantage – unlike the statistic on prancing, which returned me one handsome winner of 25/1-33/1 (mem?). Down the line I’d like to share my PE factor with you – Playful Exuberance (stalls). It’s a bit of a Mrs Smith-like element. Will be processing my order for the new book shortly, and looking forward to it.

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