Equitation pedagogic practice: Use of a ridden horse ethogram to effect change

Alison Abbey, Hayley Randle

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


A vast number of horses work in educational institutions worldwide. These horses are ridden by numerous riders who not only vary in equitation ability but also in their understanding of the horse and his/her physical and mental capabilities. Many riders receive instruction and coaching using teaching systems that focus solely on achieving outcomes that are curriculum or competition driven which do not provide the rider with an understanding of the horse. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of providing riders with an understanding of the horse using objective measurements of horse behaviour when ridden. Eighteen students aged 16-20 years studying an equestrian diploma course at Duchy College, U.K. rode an individual horse autonomously for 2 periods of 18 minutes incorporating walk, trot, canter and changes indirection, in a 40x60m indoor school. All horses were accustomed to being ridden by a range of students and were familiar with the test environment. Riding took place in three groups of 6 horse-rider pairs. Twenty one ridden behaviours considered to be indicative of stress by an experienced equitation scientist exhibited by each horse were recorded using scan-sampling with each horse observed for a series of 30 second intervals over a period of 18 minutes. As part of a mixed-methods investigation riders also completed a questionnaire prior to riding to ascertain their perception of the horses place in equitation pedagogy. An intervention talk lasting three minutes was then delivered to the 18 riders immediately after the first 18 minutes of riding(whilst still mounted) in which concepts of horse sentience and the working space between horse and rider were introduced. Riders then continued to ride the same horses in the same environment and group immediately after the intervention talk and the recording of ridden behaviours continued. Immediately after riding rider’s views on schooling, horse training and their understanding of the horse were obtained via a post-trial focus group. Horse behaviour data were non parametric (Anderson Darling; all p<0.05) and Wilcoxon tests were used to compare pre-and post- intervention talk behaviour. Occurrences of tail swishing, jaw tense, flare nostril and ears back all decreased significantly post intervention talk (W=340, 510, 890 and2160 respectively, all p<0.001), as did jaw open and wrinkle nostril (W=245 and 192.5, both p<0.01) and ears fixed forward, roll eyes and eye wrinkle (W=856.5, 127 and 28 respectively, all p<0.05). Both ears neutral and ears forward-and-back both increased significantly post intervention talk (W=1519 and 531 respectively, p<0.05). The focus group data confirmed that riders had an increased awareness of the horse as a sentient being and subsequently more realistic expectations of the horses’ capabilities following the intervention talk. The focus group emphasized the need for the horse to be part of the pedagogic experience, not be subjected to it, suggesting that there may be shortcomings in how horse and rider pedagogy is facilitated within equestrian educational centres. Lay person message: Horses are used for educational purposes all over the world. Comparison of the behaviour of ridden horses before and after riders had been made aware of sentience in horses, showed significant changes in positive ridden horses. There is a need to review equitation education in order to improve ridden horse welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventInternational Society for Equitation Science (ISES 2016) - French National Riding School, Saumur, France
Duration: 23 Jun 201625 Jun 2016


ConferenceInternational Society for Equitation Science (ISES 2016)
Internet address


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