Each year, on average, more than 9,000 Danish riders are admitted to the emergency room after interactions with a horse, with half of those injuries occurring while the rider was dismounted or working near the horse; approximately two of the total annual accidents result in death. On July 19 at the Ninth Annual International Society for Equitation Science, currently under way in Delaware, a representative of The Danish Animal Welfare Society reported these data, noting that Danish riding schools currently provide a limited education on understanding horse behavior, and that greater knowledge and awareness of horse body language could lead to fewer such incidents.
Payana Hendriksen of the Danish Animal Welfare Society said that through the creation of a website, the organization offered educational videos and tested the knowledge of riders on horse behavior. Of the 4,539 test results gathered, riders scored on average 72.5% on questions regarding horse behavior. Of those tested, the youngest and oldest age ranges (5-14 years and 60-90 years) garnered the lowest scores, with people in their 30s scoring the highest.
While results from the testing showed that Danish riders scored relatively high on overall knowledge of horse behavior, a good percentage of those same tested riders lacked a deeper understanding of the subtle nuances in horse body language. When asked to specifically qualify what led riders to describe particular behavioral states they had observed in pictures and short video clips, many were unable to elaborate on the exact body language clues that led them to their decisions.
Also apparent from the test results was that riders may also overestimate their knowledge when it comes to understanding horse behavior, with those identifying themselves as experts in reading horse behavior receiving similar scores as those claiming to have average-to-high levels of experience. Hendriksen explained that although some riders consider themselves experts, the scope of that knowledge might be lacking. “Maybe you might have holes in your knowledge,” she said. “You have not managed to develop your knowledge on horse behavior.”
The results of the study could help the next generation improve their understanding of horse behavior, noted Hendriksen, which could result in fewer accidents each year. “Horse riding is very traditional,” she said, “the longer you’ve been there--you’ve been riding for so many years--it might be difficult to accept that you can learn more than what you’ve learned already. We’re going to focus on the kids, and trying to incorporate horse behavior in riding schools, that’s our mission.”