Lark or Owl – Which one is your horse?
Did you know your horse’s chronotype can be identified as Lark or Owl, just as we do with humans? Little research has been conducted in this area, however, a recent study suggests that finding out this information could be key to understanding habits and behaviours, alongside enabling us to fine tune routines and training schedules.
Here we welcome Liz Newman who uncovers the lark or owl attributes, while talking about study findings, so you are able to make your own mind up whether your horse, or pony, is a Lark or Owl.
Lark or Own, an Introduction
Here at Horse Homes, we have been studying overnight behaviour in horses for the past 10 years. We have watched and analysed more than 80,000 hours of video recordings of horses at night in their stalls – including racehorses, sport horses and pleasure horses. One of the areas we have discovered from understanding the overnight behaviour of a horse is the horse’s chronotype – Lark or Owl.
Armed with this knowledge, we have been able to create work programmes that are most likely to be ideal for the individual horse to enable him to perform to the best of his ability and to live a happier and more relaxed life. In addition, understanding your horse’s chronotype will enable you to understand much more than you probably do about his character and behaviour both in the stable, in the pasture and when ridden.
I have always been fascinated by sleep, possibly due to my own experience of insomnia over the years. When we first began our research, I was trying to discover warning signs of colic. What I found led us to expand our focus and develop a system of profiling individual horses.
All horses have an individual overnight behaviour profile, a routine that hardly changes from one night to the next. When a horse’s behaviour changes, it is nearly always due to something being wrong, either physically or mentally.
A horse rarely spends his entire life in the same yard or on the same routine. When a horse moves from one place to another, it usually takes them a few days to adjust to its new life. In most cases, this is a smooth process partly because of the horse’s natural herd mentality and somewhat because most horses adapt pretty easily to new situations and experiences if handled correctly. However, this is not always the case, and the reason why the horse has not adjusted can be hard to find. When all the more obvious reasons have been ruled out, discovering your horse’s chronotype is an excellent next step.
When you buy a new horse, it will help a lot if you find out your horse’s chronotype early on. Then, evaluating his ability and understanding his attitude will be much easier.
If your horse which you have owned for a while, sometimes behaves aggressively for no apparent reason, is disinterested in work or is generally unhappy with life, and you have ruled out health issues, try considering whether his routine is out of sync with his chronotype.
Lark or an Owl?
Horses, like people, are either Larks or Owls. The Larks are early risers; owls prefer to get up later but are full of energy from the afternoon until late at night. Larks perform at their peak in the morning; this is when they are at their most energetic. An Owl’s performance will be at its best from the afternoon. When the routine for the horse is contrary to his chronotype, not only will his performance be affected but also his demeanor, behaviour and, over a period, his health.
You cannot change your chronotype; it is a genetic outcome. Recent research studies have gone a long way towards isolating the relevant genes. Many more studies are focusing on taking this research further.
Although, as far as I am aware, there have been no similar studies in horses, it is fairly likely that their chronotype is also genetic. Our own observations, profiling hundreds of horses, certainly indicate this.
What to do next
When you have discovered whether your horse is a Lark or an Owl, you can then consider whether his daily routine is suited to his chronotype or if it needs to be adjusted. For example, working an Owl at 6am will result in an unenthusiastic horse who cannot perform at his best early morning. Likewise, you can expect the same if you work your Lark at 7 pm.
In addition, you will find that being out of sync with the horse’s chronotype can result in a bad-tempered or depressed horse. Over time this can lead to stress-induced sleep deprivation.
Below you will find a video of one of the horses that took part in our research into overnight behaviour, you will find also find it on our YouTube video channel, Horse Homes by Bloodstock. Her routine had been out of sync with her chronotype for more than a year. She was an Owl who became quiet, depressed and a chronic box-walker. Ultimately she suffered from sleep deprivation. The video was recorded after she had failed to experience paradoxical (REM) sleep for seven nights.
If you would like our help to discover the chronotype of your horse or to carry out a full overnight behaviour analysis, please email Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Bio – Written by Liz Newman
Liz Newman has been working with horses, in one way or another, for 40 years. She is the co-founder and CEO of Horse Homes .com and co-founder and lead consultant at Disrupt Equine .com
For the past 10 years Liz and her team have been researching sleep deprivation, overnight behaviour profiling and circadian rhythms in horses.