The International Society for Equitation Science is to be applauded for espousing science-oriented work with horse care and management.
Drs. Paul McGreevy and Andrew McLean are integral figures at ISES. McGreevy is a past president. McLean is the current one. They’re two Australian professors steeped in the school of learning theory,
What’s learning theory?
It’s the idea that animals learn to react to signals (cues from the rider) and they also give signals to their environment. Training works to diminish the effect of the environment as a control over the horse’s behavior.
“A horse that shies is simply more motivated by the environment than the aid,” says McLean.
But some say learning theory is simplistic and restrictive.
Temple Grandin might be one of them.
In her book, Animals In Translation, she wrote critically about classical learning theory which assumes, for instance, that animals develop behaviors from direct experience.
“That’s logical, but doesn’t correspond to reality,” said Grandin.
Grandin explains by writing about fears and natural phobias. For example, horses can learn to fear something simply by its herdmate being afraid of it.
Learning theorists would say the horse would need to experience something scary firsthand in order to be afraid.
“If you’re Mother Nature and you decide to set things up so everybody learns what to be afraid of through direct, hands-on personal experience, you’re going to lose a lot of animals,” wrote Grandin.
In other words, fear can be contagious.
Learning theory can’t explain this. Generally, learning theorists fail to consider working with a horse as a nonlinear equation, one that varies with the environment, with the individual horse, etc.
Thankfully, though, ISES is open to any research that “ultimately improves the welfare of horses in their association with humans.”
If you have your ear to the rail, you know that the horse world is about to be showered with science.
Folks are looking more and more to research for verdicts on everything from rein tension to hay soaking.
It’s a welcome shift for a community and culture that’s been stifled by the “What We’ve Always Done” maxim for generations.
No disrespect to Tradition.
Certainly, there is some merit in tried-and-true methods.
But one need look no further than research [and uproar] on collection [and hypercollection], to see that some techniques are flawed, ineffective, and inhumane.
Change is afoot.
Celebrated dressage rider Wayne Channon endorsed the movement at the International Society of Equitation Science conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, last summer.
“The long term future of equestrian sports is one which is supported by science and is evidence led,” said Channon. “By applying the results of quality research to the everyday management and training of horses, the sport will be accountable and sustainable and should be unafraid of scrutiny.”
What does this mean for BestHorsePractices?
Think of BHP as the Consumer Reports for all those horse traditions and research topics.
We’re gonna be busy.
Pretty excited about the Evidence-Based Horsemanship seminar May 4-6.
Peters and Black will present EBH at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center and at a nearby private facility. Morning sessions will be classroom style, led by Dr. Peters in a conference room at this luxury hotel. Afternoon sessions will involve horse handling and be led by Black.
Getting here is super easy. Drive or fly to Cedar Rapids. The airport is four miles from the hotel. They’ll pick you up.
Accommodations are fantastic and we’ve got a great rate at this Four Diamond hotel. Heck, even the ladies’ room in the lobby is something to write home about. The hotel’s Class Act restaurant is staffed by Kirkwood Community College hospitality students and the food is super fabulous.
Any questions, email me here.
Visit Evidence-Based Horsemanship for more details, to download seminar flyer and registration form.
I helped Peters and Black with the manuscript and have written extensively on the topic for NickerNews. Read related articles here. And, Peters is my significant other.