What is Equitation Science?

Equitation science is bringing the advances going on in the training of most other animals into the horse world. Dog trainers, dolphin trainers, and cat trainers almost without exception use the foundation of equitation science, which is learning theory.

Equitation Science is the measurement and interpretation of interactions between horses and their riders.

—Equitation Science, Andrew McLean and Paul McGreevy (2010)

Horse trainers, meanwhile, are stuck in the world of tradition and trial-and-error.

Tradition is not a bad thing. The best horse trainers and riding coaches are applying the principles of learning theory through their tradition without knowing it; that is why their training and teaching works. ‘Horse whisperers’, instructors, and the great modern trainers have made huge advances in the availability of horse knowledge.

These approaches lack objectivity, however. Their proponents use terms such as ‘respect’ and ‘trust’ that everyone has a different definition of when it is applied to a horse. This kind of language also implies that the horse has higher mental abilities than it does according to current research. This leads to greater expectations of the horse than it can possibly meet, resulting in poor welfare. A lower opinion of the horse’s mental ability leads to the same effect.

Clearly, we need to understand better how horses think and learn. That is exactly what equitation science explains! It isn’t just another training method; rather, it explains how and why all training methods work (or perhaps why a certain aspect of one doesn’t).

What we can measure we can track, and what we track we can understand, and when we understand something we can explain it to others.

Equitation science shows how we can ethically use, train, and keep horses without subjecting them to abuse, accidental or not, so the horse industry can continue growing and providing the many benefits interaction with horses has for us.

Think: what is the first thing people say when you tell them you like, ride, or have horses?
‘Oh, yeah, so did my aunt, but she fell off and broke her ankle and quit riding.’
Or worse, ‘I tried riding once, but the trail horse bucked me off and ran away and now I’m scared of them.’
I hear this too often. This has to change!

With equitation science, coaches can now teach their students how their horse thinks and learns. When the student understands how horses think about different situations, they can respond in a safe manner and can train the horse to offer more predictable responses, rendering it even safer.

Trainers like myself who know equitation science can put the tools into their clients’ hands to understand their horse’s training so the horse’s confusion is reduced and its welfare is improved. This has the effect of improving the relationship between horse and rider.

Science enhances our ability to understand what we do with our horses and how we do it so we can get the best out of ourselves and our horses, whether that is the best score, the best behaviour, or the best relationship.