The TEN Principles of Training in Equitation Science:

Thanks to Sascha Yeomans for allowing me to adapt her material for this page:


1)  Train according to the horse's ethology and cognition

Ethology is the study of animal behaviour.  This explains their behaviour from an evolutionary perspective.  For example, the horse is a highly social animal, a creature of flight, has evolved to chew and amble about for 16-18 horus a day, etc) and cognition means how its brain works.  The horse brain is significantly different to the human brain (it is not a human on four legs!).  


2)  Use learning theory appropriately

This means to use accurate training such as negative and positive reinforcement.  Train according to how a horse can actually learn (for example, train simple responses, using closely-spaced, identical repetitions).  Horses that are trained without the application of learning theory often suffer from incorrect and painful use of pressures.  This has significant welfare and safety implications and can lead to unwanted behaviours. 


3)  Train signals that are easy to discriminate

This means train the10 responses from consistent and totally different cues.  

All signals, whether trained through operant (eg rein cues) or classical conditioning (eg seat cues), must be unique and easily discriminated. If your signals are not distinct there will be confusion in the horse.

For example, can your horse clearly distinguish the aid for go faster as different to go longer (extensions)? Has the horse learned to walk off from you picking up the reins or from your leg aid? Can your horse distinguish lateral (sideways) neck flexion from a turn cue? Is turning the forelegs a different aid from a hindquarter yield?

Studies into seat movement indicate that many of us are not as clear as we expect. All aids can become blurred by the 'noise' of unconscious pressures, such as happens when rein contact is used for balance in learning riders.

Blurred or ambivalent signals can lead to confusion and distress. A confused horse is likely to respond with behaviours that diminish rider safety and compromise performance.


4)  Shape responses and movements

This means make each response the simplest you can at first. Shaping means that we never expect a perfect response from the first try.  Improvement comes with closely-spaced, identical repetitions of very simple responses.  

The shaping scale as understood by Equitation Science trainers is as follows:

*Basic Attempt - One Step.  The horse offers an attempt at the correct response
*Obedience - Two Steps.  The horse offers an immediate response to a light aid
*Rhythm - Multiple Steps (strides).  The horse maintains rhythm and tempo
*Straightness - The horse maintains directional line and straightness
*Contact - The horse maintains connection and outline. Development of engagement, impulsion, throughness, collection.
*Proof/Harmony - The horse is under stimulus control in any environment (anywhere/anytime)

Each level of the scale predicts the next and needs to be in place before progressing.  Cutting corners leads to confusion.

An important thing to remember is that proof level also needs to be trained as part of the shaping scale.  Just because a horse will respond reliably at home does not mean he will behave the same way at an event. It is worth taking the time to introduce environmental variations and complications progressively.

Horses don't generalise quickly.  What we think of as a similar situation that the horse 'should know' may look like a whole new challenge from the horse's perspective.  One water jump does not equate to all water jumps. Be prepared to retrain the target behaviour in several settings in order to achieve proof level (about 5 different water jumps, about 5 different trailers, for example).


5)  Elicit responses one at a time

This means don't ask for lots of things at once.  Ask for Go, or Stop, but not both!  Contradictory cues will confuse a horse.  Imagine being at traffic lights in your car and both red and green are illuminated!  

Each cue must be given at a separate time. Simultaneously cueing for different responses inevitably causes stress and confusion as each one inhibits the other. Repeatedly doing so will desensitise the horse to those aids. This effect is magnified if the cues are contradictory such as acceleration and deceleration.

Some complex movements require a combination of responses, but each one is still given independently. To prevent confusion, the gap between cues needs to be clearly discernible; especially early in the horse's training. As the horse's education progresses, different cues can be given closer together; but they must remain independent.


6)  Train only one response per signal

This means that there is only one correct response per signal.  For example, a slightly backward rein pressure can ONLY mean 'decelerate your legs'; the same pressure cannot also mean 'go on the bit'.  This will confuse the horse, making less sensitive horses switch off to the reins, and making more sensitive horses develop tension and head/neck issues such as head tossing.

It is possible to use more than one aid to achieve one behaviour, but each individual aid should only ever cue one specific response.

If the same aid is used to elicit several different responses, the horse will inevitably become confused.


7)  Form consistent habits

This means that the 10 cues are the same every single time, every single day and that you use them all the time, not just when you can be bothered or when you have a problem behaviour.

 Inconsistent cues are difficult for the horse to interpret and lead to confusion.

Horses are contextual learners ('context specific learning'), which is why they so often anticipate our actions.  We can use this in their training by setting them up in the same locations when learning a new behaviour.  After each response is consolidated, the locations can be gradually altered ('generalise the learning').


8)  Train persistence of responses (self-carriage)

 This means, don't handle or ride with relentless pressures because the horse will habituate (switch off) to your aids.  Often becoming dull to them (if not a sensitive horse) or tense (if a sensitive horse). 

Light cue.  Motivating cue.  Correct response.  RELEASE!  

Train the horse to 'keep going' until signalled to do something different. Every horse can be trained to maintain rhythm, straightness and outline without constant signalling.

We don't need to ride with tight reins holding back a horse on the edge of increasing speed. We don't need to keep nudging a horse to prevent slowing. We don't need to hold the horse in an outline etc.


9)  Avoid and dissociate flight responses (because they resist extinction and trigger fear problems)

This means that if your horse practises flight steps (fast, choppy, shying, and so on), you delete them with correct training (often using the Step back technique).  For this reason correct training avoids chasing horse's around round pens, retrains rushing at jumps, bolting and so on.


10) Demonstrate minimal levels of arousal sufficient for training (to ensure absence of conflict)

This means train calmly and quietly, using minimally invasive pressures.  If we train a horse with tension learning is compromised and we may cause problems associated with the flight response.