Asymmetry of flight and escape turning responses in horses

Laterality. 2007 Sep;12(5):464-74. doi: 10.1080/13576500701495307.


We investigated whether horses display greater reactivity to a novel stimulus presented in the left compared to the right monocular visual field, and whether a population bias exists for escape turning when the same stimulus was presented binocularly. Domestic horses (N=30) were tested on three occasions by a person opening an umbrella five metres away and then approaching. The distance each horse moved away before stopping was measured. Distance was greatest for approach on the left side, indicating right hemisphere control of flight behaviour, and thus followed the same pattern found previously in other species. When order of monocular presentation was considered, an asymmetry was detected. Horses tested initially on the left side exhibited greater reactivity for left approach, whereas horses tested on the right side first displayed no side difference in reactivity. Perhaps left hemisphere inhibition of flight response allowed horses to learn that the stimulus posed no threat and this information was transferred to the right hemisphere. No population bias existed for the direction of escape turning, but horses that turned to the right when approached from the front were found to exhibit longer flight distances than those that turned to the left.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal
  • Dominance, Cerebral*
  • Escape Reaction*
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Horses*
  • Male
  • Orientation*
  • Visual Fields*