Grade 9 Student Research Communication by Horses

Edmonton & the Mill Creek community sure have some bright stars! Earlier this year, two grade 9 students from Nellie McClung; Jordan & Kaija, decided to study the body language or horses for their science fair. Here we have their preliminary report – we can’t wait to hear their results. We will be sure to post them here on our blog… big congratulations to Jordan & Kaija on their ambitious adventure and their hard work!

Their story:

Hi! We are Jordan and Kaija, two 14-year-old, grade nine, Nellie McClung students. Our passion is horses. Jordan has a nine-year-old mare named Cleo, and Kaija’s ten-year-old gelding is named Idol. As part of the Nellie McClung Program, we have participated in our school’s Science Fair for the past two years. Last year, we had one of the top projects in grade eight, so we were invited to go to the Edmonton Regional Science Fair! What an honour! We were ecstatic when we placed third in our division (Life Sciences). We are super excited to get this year’s science fair on the road!

As part of this year’s Science Fair, we were fortunate enough to borrow an Electrocardiogram (ECG) from the Millcreek Animal Hospital. The ECG measures heart rate variability (HRV), and we are going to see if horse body language affects their HRV. Horses use body language to communicate with others in their herd. There are three types of body language energies they use: pushing, drawing and blocking. In general, pushing is considered a more aggressive form of body language in the horse world because they are telling another horse to move away from them. Drawing is a passive energy, allowing other horses to come to them. Blocking, which is neither passive or aggressive, is simply telling the other horse not to come any further into their personal space.

We hypothesize that when we use pushing energy with a horse, their heart rate will speed up and their HRV will become more irregular because of the adrenaline that is released from the aggressive behaviour. We believe that drawing will have the opposite effect of pushing. It will make the horse feel safe and calm, lowering their heart rate and making their HRV more regular.

During each trial of our experiment, we hooked up 10 horses (5 mares and 5 geldings), one at a time, to the ECG. Kaija would draw each horse to her for a couple steps, then hold up her hand to block the horse from coming any closer to her. She would then energetically push the horse by pointing to the middle of the horse’s chest to make them back up. She did all of this body language without touching the horse, using verbal cues or pulling on the lead rope. While Kaija communicated with the horses using each of these three body language techniques, Jordan kept detailed records, monitored the ECG machine and video camera, and made sure that everything was running smoothly.

We want to thank Dr. Karen Allen and all of the staff at the Millcreek Animal Hospital for their support in making this possible.