Kelly Ballantyne, Colleen Koch, Lorna Reichl, Deb Bryant and Leslie Sinn were privileged to spend a week with Dr. Sue McDonnell at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center working with the semi-feral pony herd.  The herd was established in 1994 from Shetland-sized grade ponies obtained from local farms and auctions.  There are currently 106 ponies in 8 bands on approximately 40 acres.  What is amazing is that with minimal human intervention, these ponies thrive having a low incident of colic, non-existent laminitis and almost 100% reproductive efficiency.  Hooves are self-maintained and are in excellent condition. This herd is an incredible educational resource for equine researchers, veterinarians, veterinary students, graduate and undergraduate students worldwide for observation of normal social organization and behavior. Long-term longitudinal studies are being carried out on many aspects of equine physiology and behavior.

Our group consisted of five behavior residents as well as a Portuguese veterinarian graduate student in reproductive physiology, a senior veterinary student from Virginia Tech, a master’s graduate student in lab animal and enrichment and a visiting equine behavior resident from The Royal Dick in Edinburgh, Scotland.  As a group, we completed the research process using Measuring Behaviour by Martin and Bateson and settled on evaluating laterality in grazing behavior as our project.

There were many 5 a.m. days with early morning videos sessions and many late nights sweating over video clips.  However, amazing things happened….tasks were divided out and allocated, data analysis was implemented, literature searches completed, introductions written, methodology refined and by the end of the week, we had a solid project headed for likely publication.

This is not to imply that we did not have fun.  A successful grocery and wine run lead to late night chats on the shaded patio of the Allam House that were truly memorable and connections were made that will last a lifetime.  We all gained around 5 lbs thanks to Dr. McDonnell’s intimate knowledge of all the finer eating establishments in Kennett Square specifically ice cream parlors!  Dr. McDonnell was an incredible hostess and a wonderful facilitator.  Everyone who participated had only glowing things to say about the experience.

This was the first time that an equine behavior research week has been attempted.  All of us felt that the time together was so valuable that we would be interested in repeating the experience.  For other residents out there, this is an excellent way to improve your behavioral research knowledge. For those of you that just love horses, we had three foals born during the time we were there…need we say more?!?!
Stay tuned for our research results and publication as well as any announcements regarding a 2016 Equine Behavior Research Practicum!

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