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Equitation Science / Behaviour


As most horse lovers know, our modern-day horses evolved from a five-toed forest-dwelling mammal that was about the size of small foxes. In the intervening 60 million years, the horse’s morphology has changed radically to better suit running fast over the savannahs and grasslands they now inhabit in the wild.  Despite this, horses are still, in many ways, scared little critters scuttling through the undergrowth trying to avoid being eaten by something bigger. 


Equestrian people from all over Australia and the world will travel to the Land Down Under in November 2017 to attend the annual ISES conference; this year being held at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia from Wednesday 22nd to Saturday 25th November, 2017. The theme 'Equitation Science in Practice: Collaboration, Communication & Change' will provide opportunity to consider how the use of horses from leisure, to work, to sport, goes hand-in-hand with horse welfare. 


Horses Hate Surprise Parties: Equitation Science for Young Riders is the first book to present the scientific principles behind horse training in a simple and easy to understand format. Suitable for both young and not so young riders, the book provides clear explanations of horse behaviour and an easy to follow blueprint for training on the ground and under saddle. 


For the first time, a research team from the University of Pisa has measured the synchronisation of heart beats that occurs during horse-human interactions using smart textiles.   Ethologists and engineers from the University of Pisa, Italy, teamed up to measure heartbeat synchronisation induced by the emotional stimulation that occurs during horse-human interactions. They did this by aligning and comparing the respective heart rate variability (the time interval between heartbeats) via a wearable ‘smart fabric’ system.   


Why would anyone listen to what I say about training horses?


Like most people, most horses prefer to know what is expected of them and what is likely to happen to them in particular circumstances. Uncertainty leads to anxiety. A horse will respond to a confusing situation either by getting upset and trying to escape, or by making his own decisions about what to do and how to do it. Riders tend to respond to these equine reactions and decisions with increasingly violent and unconsidered signals, making the horse even more confused. A confused horse is a dangerous horse, and a dangerous horse is a potential welfare problem.


Having a bit in the horse’s mouth to give you control when riding it is generally considered to be normal. Historical reports of the human-horse relationship almost always depict a bit of some description in the horse’s mouth (Figure 1) and often the humaneness of such devices is not readily apparent (Figure 2). Recently however, there seems to be a bit of a shift towards finding more ethical ways of horse control. One such approach is thought to be the use of a bitless bridle (Figure 3).


Following the trend set by the International Society for Equitation Science, the 2013 Assessment and Asymmetry Conference, UK will provide another opportunity for scientists, technical experts and practitioners to work closely together, this time to specifically discuss how asymmetry impacts on horse performance, comfort and welfare, and how we can better understand and study it.


A revised version of the Horse Training Principles was presented at the recent conference of the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) which was held in Vancouver, Canada.  The revision of this important document is in line with the society’s aim to continually reassess and improve the welfare of horses in its interactions with humans as knowledge and experience expand, and new research and technology become available.  


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