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Katrina Merkies


Position/Title: Associate Professor
email: kmerkies@uoguelph.ca
Phone: (519) 824-4120 ext. 54707
Office: ANNU 249

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Meet Katrina ( 60 second OAC video )

Dr Merkies is the faculty advisor for the Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management degree program in Equine Management. She also teaches courses in equine management, event management, trends and issues and equine reproduction. She manages a small research program involving equine behaviour, welfare, management mainly focused on the horse-human relationship especially in equine-assisted activities.

BSc(Agr) - University of Guelph, 1994

PhD - University of Guelph, 1998

Affiliations

Donkey Sanctuary of Canada [board member]

International Society of Applied Ethology

International Society of Equitation Science [board member and trustee]

Equine Science Society

Equine Canada

 

Current Graduate Students

Angela Vascotto - PhD Candidate. Thesis - Human-Horse Attachment in Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy with At-Risk Youth

Human attachment style dictates how social relationships form and function among individuals. In equine-assisted psychotherapy, the horse is thought to take on the role of co-therapist, facilitating a therapeutic context characterized by trust and security. The emotional bond between horse and client is an essential part of the therapy, and this bond may be affected by the attachment style of the human. This research will look at whether an attachment between the horse and client exists, and if so, how the human's attachment style affects the bond and its development over time.

Abby Hodder - MSc. Candidate. Major Project - Can horses distinguish between human facial expressions

In humans, successful social interactions rely on recognition and interpretation of facial expressions. Research on facial expression recognition between humans and non-human animals is sparse but dogs have been shown to discriminate between photographs of neutral and smiling faces, with more success in humans of the same gender as their owner. Horses showed avoidance behaviours when presented with photographs of humans exhibiting negative facial expressions and were able to pair previous exposure to a smiling photograph with more positive interactions when meeting that person. Horses also appeared to recognize incongruency when a smiling human face was paired with an angry voice. There have been no controlled studies exploring the reaction of horses to live human facial expressions. This research will document the response of horses exposes to happy, sad, angry and neutral facial expressions in human subjects.


Recent Past Graduate Students

Cordelie Dubois - PhD. Thesis - The development of an equine welfare assessment tool

With diversity in equine disciplines ranging from hunter/jumper to racing to rodeo and pleasure riding, standards of care and management of the horse are difficult to articulate. The basic physiology of the horse, however, does not change irrespective of its function. A compendium of specific measures (animal-, management- and resource-based) that can accurately assess a horse’s level of welfare regardless of its environment is essential. This research seeks to develop a Canadian-based equine welfare assessment model which will augment implementation of the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Equine Code of Practice, enhance transparency, facilitate awareness, and provide legitimacy and credibility to participating equine facilities. Concomitantly, a validated training program for equine welfare evaluators will be developed to standardize the delivery and implementation of appropriate welfare assessment measures across a range of equestrian facilities and activities.

Madeline Barnes - MSc. Major Project - The palatability of steamed and soaked hay for horses

Dried hay is the most common feedstuff for horses in North America. Horse owners supply hay in a variety of formats for a variety of reasons. Two such methods in which dried hay is altered before being offered to horses is soaking and, to a lesser extent, steaming. When grass hay is soaked or steamed the resulting wet or steamed hay has less carbohydrates. Soaking, but not steaming, also results in a loss of protein and micronutrients. A lower carbohydrate-content hay can help to reduce blood glucose and this is appealing for horses with laminitis, insulin resistance (Cushings), Equine Polysaccharide Myopathy, and those who are overweight. The extent of the effects of soaking and steaming on timothy/alfalfa hay, the most commonly available hay in Ontario, is unknown as the majority of research has been conducted in the United Kingdom where grass hays are more common. Therefore, under commonly-used soaking and steaming practices, this research seeks to understand how soaking and steaming affect the nutrient content of timothy/alfalfa hay and additionally whether soaking or steaming alters the preference horses have for dried, soaked or steamed hay.

Haley Belliveau - MSc. Major Project - Human discrimination of horse vocalizations

Horses are social creatures relying on various stimuli to interact with others around them. Typically, horses are thought of as visual animals; however, they also rely on vocalizations to convey various messages. Vocalizations usually occur within two contexts – social and non-social. The social context is indicative of greeting, locating, courting, mare-foal interaction, and aggressive behaviours. There are also non-social situations in which horses will vocalize. These include pain, fear, and frustration responses. Whinnying is a vocalization exhibited by horses in a variety of situations. Whinnying is used as both and greeting and separation call to maintain and regain contact with other herd members. Whinnies have also been acoustically examined in eustress and distress situations. Eustress and distress are two fundamentally different states of being where eustress is a positive, or exciting stress and distress is a negative stress or event. There are defined bioacoustic differences between a whinny generated in eustress compared to a whinny generated in distress. Humans, including children and sightless adults, have demonstrated the ability to correctly classify dog barks that are generated in various contexts. This ability may translate over to another companion animal - the horse. This research is aimed to investigate whether humans can accurately distinguish between positive and negative horse vocalizations, particularly whinnies generated in a variety of situations

Lindsay Nakonechny - MSc. Major Project - An industry view of prevalence and perception of horse welfare in Canada

In today’s western society where “animal welfare” is a heightened objective, of great concern is a horse owner's apparent inability to properly assess welfare problems. Horse owners routinely underestimate the prevalence of their animals' stereotypic and abnormal behaviours, especially on farms where the greatest number of animals performed unwanted behaviours. Owners often continue to use horses unfit for riding in light lessons (walk and trot), despite veterinary advice to the contrary, perhaps because they do not consider the state of their animals a pressing welfare concern. This may be related to the juxtaposition found in clinical practitioners who claim to be able to recognize equine suffering but can provide no clinical definition. An industry questionnaire circulated in the Netherlands indicates that almost 65% of horse enthusiasts believe there are welfare issues in the industry, however their beliefs do not always result in best welfare practices; for example, almost 75% of respondents believe that horses prefer social housing, but over 60% of these people house their horses individually. As a first step in developing a standard of equine welfare, the perception and understanding of welfare issues in the Canadian horse industry needs to be established.

Current Research Projects

  • The effect of human attachment style on behavioural and physiological responses in therapy horses
  • Qualifying the bond between horses and humans
  • Eye blink rates in horses
  • Effectiveness of training regimes to prepare police horses for work on the streets
  • Brain organization in horses
  • Trends in equipment use on horses
  • Behavioural responses of horses upon interaction with humans
  • Effect of whip use in racing horses
  • Selection and discrimination by horses of different flavours
  • Rider  and horse symmetry

Selected Referreed Publications

  1. Merkies K, Alebrand J, Harwood B, LaBarge K, Scott L. 2019. Investigation into thoracic asymmetry in ridden horses. Comparative Exercise Physiol Special Issue, in press

  2. DuBois C, DeVries TJ, Haley DB, Lawlis P, Merkies K. 2019. Farm manager involvement in an equine on-farm welfare assessment: opportunities for education and improvement. Animal Welfare 28:173-181.

  3. DuBois C, Nakonechny L, Derisoud E, Merkies K. 2018. Examining Canadian Equine Industry Participants’ Perceptions of Horses and Their Welfare. Animals, 8, 201. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8110201

  4. Merkies K, McKechnie MJ, Zakrajsek E. 2018. Behavioural and physiological responses of therapy horses to mentally traumatized humans. Appl Anim Behav Sci https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2018.05.019

  5. DuBois C, DeVries T, Haley DB, Lawlis P, Merkies K. 2018. Putting an On-Farm Welfare Assessment Tool into Practice in the Canadian Equine Industry – A Pilot Study. J Eq Vet Sci 63:35-40

  6. Merkies K, Nakonechny L, DuBois C, Derisoud E. 2018. Preliminary study on current perceptions and usage of training equipment by horse enthusiasts in Canada. J Appl Anim Welf Sci, 21:141-152, DOI:10.1080/10888705.2017.1392301

  7. DuBois C, Hambly-Odame H, Haley DB, Merkies K. 2017. An Exploration of Industry Expert Perception of Equine Welfare Using Vignettes. Animals 7:102-110 doi:10.3390/ani7120102

  8. Merkies K, DuBois C, Marshall K, Parois S, Graham L, Haley D. 2106. A two-stage method to approach weaning stress in horses using a physical barrier to prevent nursing. App Anim Beh Sci; 183:68-76 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.07.004

  9. DuBois C, Zakrajsek E, Haley DB, Merkies K. 2015. Validation of triaxial accelerometers to measure the lying behaviour of adult domestic horses. Animal 9:110-114 http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S175173111400247X
  10. Merkies K, Sievers A, Zakrajsek E, MacGregor H, Bergeron B, König von Borstel U. 2014. Influence of psychological and physiological arousal in humans on horse heart rate and behaviour. J Vet Behav 9 (2014) 242-247 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2014.06.003
  11. von Borstel UU, Duncan IJH, Shoveller AK, Merkies K, Keeling LJ, Millman ST. 2009. Impact of riding in a coercively obtained Rollkür-posture on welfare and fear of performance horses. App Anim Beh Sci;116:228-236 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2008.10.001

Conference Presentations

  1. Alebrand J, Harwood B, LaBarge K, Scott L, Merkies K. 2018. Investigation into thoracic asymmetry in ridden horses. 14th International Society for Equitation Science, Rome, Italy, Sept 2018

  2. Merkies K, Branchflower A, Chenier T. 2018. Impacts of population management with Porcine Zona Pellucida vaccine on the behaviour of a feral horse population. 52nd International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE) Congress, PEI, Canada, Aug 2018

  3. Pearce S, Niel L, Merkies K. Can humans distinguish stress behaviours in dogs? Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare (CCSAW) Annual Research Symposium. Guelph, ON, May 2018

  4. Garnett A, Merkies K. Decreased eye-blink rate as a non-invasive measure of stress in the domestic horse. International Society of Equitation Science, Australia, Nov 2017

  5. Merkies K, Paraschou G,  McGreevy PD. Preliminary investigation into relationships between donkey and horse skull morphology and brain morphology. International Society of Equitation Science, Australia, Nov 2017

  6. McKechnie M, Zakrajsek E, Merkies K. Behavioural responses of horses to humans with and without PTSD. International Society of Equitation Science, Australia, Nov 2017

  7. DuBois C, Haley DB, Lawlis P, DeVries T, Merkies K. Examining the usefulness of qualitative data to supplement an on-farm equine welfare assessment tool. UFAW International Symposium, Surrey, UK, June, 2017
  8. Merkies K, Marshall K, Parois S, Haley D. Effect of two-stage weaning on lying behaviour in horses. International Society of Applied Ethology, Sapporo, Japan, Sept 2015
  9. Merkies K, McGreevy PD. Preliminary investigation into relationships between equine skull organization and brain morphology. International Society of Equitation Science, Vancouver, Aug 2015
  10. Faouën A, Merkies K. The influence of rider handedness on rider position. Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph, ON, May 2014; International Society of Equitation Science, Denmark, Aug 2014
  11. Merkies K, Stacey D. Horse Lovers Math. Nat Ass Equine Affiliated Academics, Louisville KY. June 2014
  12. Merkies K. Student self-evaluation as a method for summative and formative learning. 27th Annual Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference, Guelph ON, April 2014; Nat Ass Equine Affiliated Academics, Louisville KY. June 2014
  13. Faouën A, Merkies K. The influence of rider handedness on rider position. Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph, ON, May 2014; International Society of Equitation Science, Denmark, August 2014
  14. Sharpe P, MacGregor H, Merkies K. Correlation of estimated body weight to scale weight in draft horses. Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph ON, May 2014; Nat Ass Equine Affiliated Academics, Louisville KY. June 2014
  15. Durand N, Merkies K. Whip use in Quarter Horse racing. Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph, ON, May 2014; International Society of Equitation Science, Denmark, August 2014
  16. Sylvia E, Stogryn M, Schittenhelm J, Bartkowski S, Merkies K. Decreased eye blink rates in horses in response to induced stressors. Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph ON, May 2014; International Society of Equitation Science, Denmark, August 2014
  17. DuBois C, Graham LH, Haley DB, Merkies K. Methods for measuring fecal cortisol metabolites in domestic ponies (Equus caballus) using enzyme immunoassays. Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph ON, May 2014; International Society of Applied Ethology North American Conference, East Lansing MI, May 2014
  18. DuBois C, Marshall K, Parois S, Haley DB, Merkies K. Travel distance and duration of increased locomotion post-weaning in domestic pony foals. Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph ON, May 2014; International Society of Applied Ethology North American Conference, East Lansing MI, May 2014
  19. Zakrajsek E, MacGregor H, Merkies K. Response of light horse breeds to humans in differing physical and mental states. Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph ON, May 2014; International Society of Equitation Science, Denmark, August 2014
  20. DuBois C, Zakrajsek E, Haley DB, Merkies K. Validation of triaxial accelerometers to measure the lying behaviour of adult domestic horses. Ontario Ecology, Ethology, and Evolution Colloquium (OE3C), Guelph, ON, May 2014; Animal Welfare Research Symposium, Guelph ON, May 2014; International Society of Applied Ethology North American Conference, East Lansing MI, May 2014
  21. Merkies K, MacGregor H, Ouimette M, Bogart E, Miraglia K. Does the human voice have a calming effect on horses? J Eq Vet Sci 2013 33:368; International Society of Equitation Science, Delaware USA, July 2013
  22. Merkies K, MacGregor H, Ouimette M, Bogart E, Miraglia K. The effect of human body posture on horse behaviour. CCSAW Research Symposium, Guelph, ON 2013; International Society of Equitation Science, Delaware USA, July 2013
  23. Merkies K, Reid T, Seewald S. Ear direction is related to jumping success. International Society of Equitation Science, Delaware USA, July 2013
  24. Merkies K, Sheiner J, Tiidus M. Perfect Passage. International Society of Equitation Science, Delaware USA, July 2013
  25. Merkies K, Bogart E. Discrimination of sour and sweet solutions by mature horses. J Eq Vet Sci 2013 33:330
  26. Merkies K, Durand N, Joyce K, Zegers C. Effect of whip use on high and low speed index Quarter Horses while racing. CCSAW Research Symposium, Guelph ON, May 2013; International Society of Equitation Science, Delaware USA, July 2013
  27. Merkies K, Eves C, Hall K, Peacock V. Body condition scores of Western and English discipline horses. CCSAW Research Symposium, Guelph ON 2013
  28. Merkies K, A Insensee, UU von Borstel-König, H MacGregor, A Tucker, R Bergeron. Influence of psychological and physiological arousal in humans on horse heart rate and behaviour. International Society of Equitation Science, Edinburgh, Scotland. 2012
  29. Merkies K, Sheiner J, MacGregor H, Gedge A, Ritchie F, Wood SJ, White C. Cross-Atlantic collaboration. Nat Ass Equine Affiliated Academics, MT. June 2012

last updated June 2019