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

Alison Abbey, Hayley Randle

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstractpeer-review

Abstract

Many horses work in equestrian facilities worldwide where they are ridden by riders who vary in their equitation ability and their understanding of the horse’s physical and mental capabilities. This is compounded by instruction and coaching that focuses solely on curriculum or competition driven outcomes and disregards horse sentience. This study investigated the effect of providing riders with an understanding of the horse on horse ridden behavior. Eighteen equine students (aged 16-20 years) took part in a mixed-methods investigation. Questionnaires completed prior to riding confirmed that students were not aware of horse sentience. Each student then rode an individual horse in walk, trot and canter in a familiar 20 x60m environment autonomously for 18 minutes before, and 18minutes after, receiving a 3 minute intervention talk designed to raise student awareness of horse sentience. Twenty one ridden horse behaviors considered indicative of stress were recorded using scan-sampling at 30 second intervals during both periods of riding. Comparison of horse behavior pre- and post- intervention talk revealed that negative behaviors such as tail swishing, jaw tensing, nostril flaring and ears back decreased significantly (Wilcoxon: all P< 0.001) while positive behaviors such as ears neutral and ears forward-and-back increased significantly (Wilcoxon: P < 0.05) post intervention talk. A post-trial focus group confirmed that increasing riders’ awareness of horse sentience led to more realistic expectations of the horse and consequently less stressed horses. This study demonstrates that there may be shortcomings in how horse and rider pedagogy is facilitated within equestrian educational centres.

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