Aligning Training with Horse Behavior

Along with researching drugs, treatments, and techniques to keep your horse healthy, equine researchers are discovering how handling and training methods can be brought more in line with horses' natural behaviors and instincts for a more harmonious and effective partnership. A number of these researchers from around the world shared notes at the 4th International Society for Equitation Sciences (ISES) conference, which was held Aug. 1 - 4 at Ireland's Royal Dublin Society (RDS), an exhibition and convention center.

"The main theme and goal of the conference was to address how the equine industry can improve the simultaneous understanding of equine training, performance, and welfare," said Jack Murphy, PhD, BSc, Dipl. Cert Eq. Sci., and Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology Equine Research Fellow from University College in Dublin, Ireland, who served as the organizing secretariat for this year's conference.

According to Murphy, more than 260 veterinarians, students, technicians, researchers, and horse enthusiasts attended the event, which attracted around 100 peer-reviewed abstracts from presenters in more than 26 countries.

These scientific papers were delivered as keynote, plenary, and short oral presentations in the Royal Dublin Society Library.

"We wanted to foster an enhanced understanding of how horses behave and learn, and to use their natural ability to train, ride, drive, or compete with them in as fair a manner as possible."
--Dr. Jack Murphy
"In total, there were 36 oral presentations; eight practical equitation displays, and almost 50 poster presentations were on display for the duration of the conference in the poster room," said Murphy.

Plenary lectures opened each day of the conference. Each presenter focused on various aspects of the horse-human dyad. On day one, Eric Smiley, fellow of the British Horse Society and Irish Olympian (in the sport of eventing) presented his paper, "Practice PERFECT to PERFECT practice" which, according to Murphy, spurred a thought-provoking discussion by the attendees when the topic was opened to the floor.

Day two commenced with David J. Marlin, PhD, associate dean of Research at Hartpury College in the United Kingdom, who has conducted several physiological studies on horses during previous Olympic competitions, compared the training programs for elite human athletes with those of equine athletes and described ways to balance performance with welfare.

The final plenary lecture titled, "Can we align horse training and handling activities with the equid ethogram?" was presented by Paul McGreevy, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, of the University of Sydney, and his co-authors Francis Burton, PhD, from the United Kingdom, and Andrew McLean, PhD, BSc, from the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre.

In addition to the oral and poster presentations, this conference featured practical equitation displays: a jumping demonstration by legendary Comandant John Ledingham, and a dressage demonstration with veteran coach Niall Quirke of Ireland and Eilish Byrne, a paraplegic rider from Ireland.

"At ISES Dublin 2008 we wanted to foster an enhanced understanding of how horses behave and learn, and to use their natural ability to train, ride, drive, or compete with them in as fair a manner as possible," relayed Murphy. "I think our attendees will agree this goal was achieved."

The proceedings of ISES Dublin 2008 will be available shortly on the ISES homepage at Equitationscience.com, and full papers from selected abstracts will be included in a Special Issue of The Veterinary Journal, which will be guest edited by McGreevy and Murphy. This Special Issue will be released at ISES Australia 2009.

More information on ISES Dublin 2008 and ISES Australia 2009 and the call for abstracts will be available at Equitationscience.com.  

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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