Study Pans Equestrians’ Understanding of Learning Theory

Researchers found that while many riders think they understand learning theory and its applications, few really do.

You want to use a concept called learning theory to improve your horse’s welfare during training and riding. It sounds great! But do you understand the science behind it and how to apply it properly? If not, you’re not alone.

An international research team has learned that while many riders think they understand learning theory’s concepts and applications, few actually do. In fact, a recent survey showed that only about a third of riders (including advanced riders) could define negative reinforcement correctly. And less than 40% knew how to use negative reinforcement with their leg aids.

Learning theory refers to the body of research that has led to a better understanding of how horses learn, behave, and react. One of its primary aspects (for training purposes) is the use of negative reinforcement—the release of pressure as a reward.

“There’s much work yet to be done to educate equestrians on putting learning theory to practice,” said Angelo Telatin, MS, director of equine studies at Delaware Valley College, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Telatin presented his group’s study results at the 2016 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held June 23-26 in Saumur,

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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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