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Nature 'vs' Nurture

Updated: Jun 5

Nature versus nurture is often talked about whether it’s considering child development or more relevant to us, in horses. Dr Andrew Hemmings has carried out lots of research that reveals that by having a detailed knowledge of innate biological characteristics (nature) can help us make decisions about the best management practices of the domestic horse (nurture).

Generally, when you read about nature and nurture, the nature element very much refers to what's going on in the animal's genetic constitution – the horse’s genes. Nurture is the environmental factors, so this could be training regimes, climactic factors on the day a horse is racing, for example. Nutrition is also part of nurture.

Horses Inside out: Nature vs Nuture

Both of these factors (nature and nurture) work in synchrony to give you the horse you see in front of you, this is referred to as the phenotype. For example, a chestnut horse has the very simple combination of genes, which leads to chestnut coat colour – this is nature. During the summer under the influence of UV radiation from the sun, this horse’s coat will become lighter and correspondingly darker in the winter. This is the environment (nurture) that influences this change. This is how genes and the environment work.

Another example would be, take a famous racehorse such as the 2010 Gold Cup winner, Imperial Commander. There’s no doubt that Imperial Commander has the genes (nature) for excellent racing performance but would he have been a Gold Cup winner without the optimal environment (nurture) - his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies?

Rather than thinking of nature opposing nurture we need to understand that these two crucial factors work in synchrony to give us the phenotype, Andrew is keen for us all to know more about nature - understanding more about the precise genetic combinations, as this will enables us to better tailor the environment or nurture so the horse can perform to the best of his ability.

If you are keen to learn more about this fascinating subject (who wouldn’t be) and apply it to our own horses you must join our online seminar Nature vs Nurture: Genetic insights into health, welfare and performance with Dr Andrew Hemmings on Saturday 4 November 2023.

Horses Inside out: Dr Andrew Hemmings

Dr Andrew Hemmings is a world authority on the equine brain and how that organ impacts on behaviour and training. Andrew is a Principal Lecturer in Equine Science and the head of department (Equine Management and Science) at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester. He is passionate about making neuroscience available to horse owners in such a way that all horses will benefit from better training, welfare and management.

This one-day online seminar is broken down into three sections.

The herd living herbivore - evolutionary perspectives on anatomy, management and behaviour. This session will explore the evolution of the modern horse, and how a 55 million year journey can tell us much about keeping the modern horse healthy and happy.

Introduction to horse genetics and the inheritance of simple traits.

This session will introduce the fundamentals of genetics, exploring the inheritance of simple traits such as coat colour. Andrew will also go into detail and explore the genetics of various diseases.

The genetics of anatomy, performance and behaviour

The final section will study equine performance and behavioural traits, the focus will be on the interplay between genes and the domestic environment – nature v nurture.

Understanding How Your Horse Learns

If you can't join us for this seminar why not take a look at our on-demand recorded seminar

with Dr Andrew Hemmings and Training the Brain

The detailed seminar covers the anatomy of the brain, how it works and how this knowledge can be applied to handling, training, welfare and management. You will also gain a useful insight into stereotypical behaviours and an online brain dissection. This seminar is a must for therapists, trainers, students and indeed all equine professionals.

Horses Inside out: Training the Brain with Dr Andrew Hemmings

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