Status quo of the personality trait evaluation in horse breeding: Judges' assessment of the situation and strategies for improvement

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Recently, concerns about the validity of the evaluation of personality traits in horse breeding have been raised. For that reason, the aim of the present study was to assess the current status of personality trait evaluation in horse breeding. A survey was conducted among all station performance test judges and all test riders officially appointed by the German Equestrian Federation. The survey was designed to obtain the breeding experts' judgment of rideability and personality trait evaluation, to assess the utilization of the current guidelines, and finally to scan the obtained descriptions of traits for specific behavior patterns and their potential use in devising new, more objective guidelines. All breeding experts concurred that personality traits are important (26%) or very important (74%), and most (96%) agreed that these traits should be evaluated during station performance tests but that there are some (26%) or considerable (57%) problems in the present evaluation system. Criticism included the lack of objectivity and of universally accepted guidelines, the lack of consideration of important traits such as learning ability, and difficulties in differentiating between learned and inherent behavior. Just more than half (57%) of the experts stated that they make use of some guidelines, but few (13%) mentioned the official guidelines for personality trait evaluation. When presented with these guidelines' description of a horse's behavior deserving score 7 (and score 4) of 10 for rideability, only 47% (46% in the case of score 4) of the surveyed experts assigned the correct score. The remaining respondents exceeded the correct score by 1 score (score 8 instead of 7) and exceeded (39%) or went below (16%) score 4 by up to 3 scores. These results show that the present evaluation of personality traits in horse breeding lacks objectivity, likely resulting in unreliable personality trait scores, although judges are aware of some of these problems. Changes in the present evaluation strategies, such as devising new mandatory guidelines including the description of concrete behavior patterns and/or objective behavior tests, are required to enable a meaningful, genetic selection for, and thus improvement of personality traits.

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