10 Learning Theory-Based Horse Training Principles

These principles can help riders maintain equine welfare, improve safety, and allow horses to perform at their best.
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These principles can help riders maintain equine welfare, improve safety, and allow horses to perform at their best. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse
Andrew McLean, PhD, BSc, Dipl. Ed, renowned horse trainer and head of the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre, in Victoria, first presented his evidence- and learning theory-based principles of horse training in 2006. Since then he’s been refining and retooling them as he discovers more ways to promote equine welfare.

“It’s not about turning horse training into a science,” he explained, “but, rather, understanding, defining, and measuring what we possibly can.”

McLean presented a revised version of his training principles at the 11th International Society of Equitation Science Conference, held Aug. 6-9, in Vancouver, British Columbia. They are as follows:

1. Train according to the horse’s ethology and cognition. By understanding horses’ behavior (e.g., their social organization, attachment, fear responses, separation anxiety, arousal, need for space and companions, etc.) as well as their thought processes, we can better comprehend what causes them fear, makes them feel secure, and so forth and incorporate those things into training. “It’s normal for us to project a very human interpretation of how horses think,” said McLean. “But in doing so we’re expecting far too much,” and this can create negative welfare situations

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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