The answer is in the horse’s head.
In the 1990s, scientists studied why horses sometimes win races by not being prepared, and learned that they tend not to understand what goes on.
Now, scientists have confirmed a link between mental fatigue and horse racing success.
Researchers in Denmark have used cognitive profiling to determine what horses — and humans — know about their own performance.
When tested by scientists, horses often perform in ways that appear inexplicable to others.
The study of cognitive profiling — where researchers monitor a horse’s mental responses to verbal and visual stimuli — is still in its early stages, but the results suggest that what horses really think, and how they think about their own performance, could have something to do with the success of their races.
“We have the ability to look at the brains of animals,” said Dr. Lotta Seyfried.
She is the leader of a team of researchers who have tracked the mental health of horses from the time they are three days old, and studied how their minds process visual, and verbal, stimuli during a race.
The team found that horses react differently to visual stimuli, like faces and shapes. They may perceive such visual stimuli as more important than the ones they were trained to ignore. If a horse experiences stress, it will become sluggish and less likely to win.
“The race could be very important for the horse,” Seyfried said. “We don’t say the race is the only thing that affects the horse’s performance, but it certainly is a contributor.”
There are two types of stress in racing. Seyfried describes them as one–time, acute stress and one–time, chronic stress. The race is chronic stress.
One–time stress can happen after a stressful event, or the horse is out of training during a stressful event. Chronic stress, on the other hand, comes in the form of longer race races. When animals are racing over and over again, they become accustomed to that kind of stress. It is a form of mental fatigue.
Mental fatigue can often come as a direct result of mental illness, including depression. Seyfried herself has depression.
One–time stress is also commonly caused by trauma, including being hit by a car and having injuries that need treating. Seyfried and other researchers had previously observed a number of mental-health problems in horse racing — including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, and
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