Behaviorist: Train According to Horses’ Ethology, Cognition

Consider horses’ unique abilities and needs to carry out welfare-friendly, efficient training, one researcher says.

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It might seem obvious, but taking a horse’s biological needs and capabilities into consideration can make for more efficient (and more ethical) horse training, says one international equine behavior expert. This often-overlooked concept is now the first of 10 basic training principles adopted by the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES).

“Animals become reflections of the humans around them—showing how well those humans understand their ethology and take that into consideration in their training,” said Sue McDonnell, PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist and founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square. She presented on the topic during the 2016 ISES Conference, held June 23-25 in Saumur, France.

This principle specifies that trainers should “take into account the horse’s ethology and cognition,” the official ISES document states. “Ethology is the study of animal behavior that provides information on how animals have evolved to live. Cognition refers to the ways animals process information about the world.”

Opening the ISES conference, McDonnell explained what this principle involves and why it has importance in the equestrian world. “There remain enormous opportunities for managers and trainers of domestic animals to apply what is known about the ethology of animals to enhance the overall quality of human-animal relationships, including health and welfare, training and management efficiency, human and animal safety, and productivity,” she said. “This is certainly the case for horses

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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