About Equitation Science Training

Equitation Science is an evidence-based training process that has a wealth of science as its foundation.  Its roots are in the science of behaviour modification, stemming from the 1930s and updated with contemporary scientific research.  The fundamental principle is to train according to how horses can actually learn given that they are a prey animal with a very different brain to that of humans.  

ES can improve the horse's way of going, retrain problem behaviours (minor or severe) and also improve new or nervous rider's confidence.  

It is a highly effective method of retraining, based on the science of how animals learn to respond to cues (aids). ES teaches the intentional training and handling of all horses, and it is based on science, not on tradition, fallacy, fancy equipment, marketing or gimmicks. Evidence-based training replaces the unproven and illogical notions of dominance and respect, willingness or naughtiness with proven retraining principles.  

Equitation Science offers a simple, logical system for training horses that is today applied by many of the world's best riders and trainers.  Horses learn new responses within the first few minutes of the training session and they continue to improve markedly with each subsequent session.

Equitation Science promotes training which is consistent with the learning processes of horses and results in good equine welfare.  As such, we do not use gadgets such as draw reins.  Training seeks to retrain the horse so that they offer consistent responses and hold themselves correctly, in self-carriage, not because they are being forced into a false outline with restrictive devices.

Equitation Science does not confuse horse training with inappropriate, subjective notions, fluffy language, extra equipment and so on.  It seeks to remove anthropomorphism from horse training.  In other words, horses are not viewed as humans on four legs and they are not labelled as ‘bad’, ‘lazy’, ‘right brained’, etc.  They are simply retrained, using correctly timed pressure and release techniques and appropriately applied praise.

In addition, Equitation Science clarifies the role of negative reinforcement (pressure/release) and habituation (desensitisation) in the learning processes of horses.  Positive reinforcement (reward) is also used in a measured, intentional way to accelerate the learning of the horse.

Equitation Science offers a clear understanding of the mental processes and abilities of horses and how far those are similar and dissimilar to how humans learn.

It will result in riders that have a very clear understanding of the 10 Basic Responses that a horse can give and the 10 Basic Cues that the rider gives to elicit those responses.  It results in calmer, safer, much more relaxed horses that are more reliable in their responses.  It also results in horses that are trained to respond from light cues.

In horses with problem behaviour ES training results in that behaviour being eradicated and replaced with desirable behaviour, ie, that the horse calmly self-loads instead of bolting off the trailer; that the horse stops rushing fences and calmly approaches them and stops easily after the jump effort.

Equitation Science is distinct from New Age methods in that it is based on scientific principles on how horses actually learn (their learning processes).  It does have some similarities, eg, the use of pressure/release and in-hand training of the horses basic responses, but there are significant differences as Equitation Science is based on the science of learning theory, and it seeks to avoid subjective, unproven interpretations of horse behaviour. 

Equitation Science avoids some New Age techniques, such as trotting or cantering a horse around a round pen, as this teaches a horse to practice flight steps, which should be avoided (training deficits in the stop response should be retrained first, as a matter of safety).

Although ES can be easily mastered by an average rider, it is also of benefit to riders of any level as it is a training method that underlies the fundamentals of all disciplines, including dressage, showjumping, cross country, polo, endurance and so on.  Equitation Science training is the very foundation upon which all other equestrian pursuits should be based for maximum success, safety, horse welfare and sheer enjoyment. 

It will benefit every horse you handle ever after, so it's a very cost-effective method of improving horses and making them more of a pleasure ride and safer to handle.  Commercial yards will benefit most from ensuring that their key staff are trained in this method, so they are then able to transfer their skills to their junior staff and also to their clients, who will benefit immeasurably.

This is a link to my mentor, the great Australian, Dr Andrew McLean, talking about horse training.  It's a very good lecture indeed.