Conventional vs. Natural Training: Which is Less Stressful?

Conventional vs. Natural Training: Which is Less Stressful?

"The natural training method yielded a lesser emotional response in the horses, most of all for young male horses," Kedzierski said. "The advantages of this method compared to the conventional methods was proved."

Photo: Witold Kedzierski, PhD

How to properly train a young horse to be a riding mount is a topic now being discussed in equestrian science circles, as researchers recently compared the emotional effects of "natural" versus "conventional" methods of early training. Their results indicate that natural training methods produced fewer signs of stress in young horses at three important stages of training.

In the current study led by Polish equestrian scientist Witold Kedzierski, PhD, from the department of animal biochemistry and physiology at the University of Life Sciences in Lublin, natural training consisted of working with horses individually in a round pen, starting them with ground work, schooling them to avoid pressure, and helping them get used to unfamiliar objects. Natural trainers waited for each horse to show acceptance to the saddle and to having the weight of a human over its back before mounting the horse in a seated position, Kedzierski said.

"Essentially, the natural trainers used body language to communicate with the horses," he added during a presentation at the 2011 International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held Oct. 26-29 in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands.

Conventional training in this study involved first training the horses to walk on an automated walker and then longeing the horses in a training arena. Once the horse could be controlled at a trot on the longe line, it was saddled and longed under saddle until it accepted the saddle, and then it was mounted by the trainer.

Working with 32 two-and-a-half-year-old purebred Arabian colts and fillies divided into the two training groups, Kedzierski, along with fellow researchers Iwona Janczarek, PhD, and Anna Stachurska, PhD, from the department of horse breeding and use at the University of Life Sciences, monitored the horses' heart rates at three specific moments in the training program: the first time they were saddled and had the girth tightened; the first time they walked under saddle; and the first time the trainer mounted the horse. He also monitored them at rest prior to training as a control.

Upon reviewing the study results, the team found that the horses' heart rates differed significantly depending on the training group they were in. And the horses that were trained naturally had the lowest heart rates--which is generally accepted as indicating less excitement.

The conventionally trained horses had higher heart rates the first time the girth was cinched and the first time the rider mounted than did the naturally trained horses, particularly the colts, Kedzierski said.

"The initial training of naive purebred Arabian horses with the use of natural training methods involved less emotional response than with that of conventional training methods, and this difference was most pronounced in colts," Kedzierski said.

It remains unclear why colts in this study were most affected by the natural training. Additionally, it's important to remember that each horse responds differently to specific training methods, so use caution when changing training methods.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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