Mapping Future of Equestrian Sports with Equitation Science

Mapping Future of Equestrian Sports with Equitation Science

This applies to both high level and leisure riders, Channon said, and it should also apply to national federations.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Strap on your helmet--we're going for a ride into the future of equestrian sports. And said one elite international dressage rider, the road to that future is paved by equitation science.

"The road ahead is all about what science can do for the horse," said Wayne Channon, BSc, ARCS, British international dressage rider and biotech entrepreneur. He addressed the audience of the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

But that road, he said, must include several major landmarks that include consistent factual evidence, an improved scoring system, and leadership by the international equestrian federation.

"What equestrianism really needs is a coherent, comprehensive training system that combines the best there is on offer and bases itself on principles that will stand the test of time," Channon said. "Equitation science clearly has to play a pivotal role in this process."

This relatively new, specific field of science must provide "independent, state-of-the-art research" and define "clear boundaries on what horses can and cannot do," he said. It should also show what riders can reasonably ask of their horses "and, more importantly, what riders should definitely not expect them to do."

This applies to both high level and leisure riders, Channon said, and it should also apply to national federations.

"If you look at the current systems that we have--the German system, the French system, the Swedish system, whichever one it is--I can see problems(in training methods)," he said. There's also inconsistency, as some top riders "do something really different" from what is commonly described in training books. And little of it is based on scientific evidence, he said.

"There are things that the top trainers do that they would not do if they knew how the horse's brain was organized," he said.

Horse welfare is another critical area that can be improved through the work of equitation scientists, said Channon. Through research, people can learn how to help prevent injuries and treat them effectively when they do occur. "It's not just about getting better sports performance," he said. "It's about having healthier, happier horses."

The journey ahead would ideally include "simple biometric tests" that would help detect pain and lameness, he said. He commended the work of Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, who was already on "the road ahead" by working towards indicators for lameness, good conformation, and performance.

The future would also include a more scientifically based scoring system, a concept that was already suggested during the ISES conference by a German researcher. Not only is the current system too subjective, he said, but it also is at risk of bias, especially when judges already know the horse before it enters the arena.

Channon said he hopes that in the coming years, science and equestrian teams can work together to produce an internationally top-level horse that has been entirely trained through research-based methods. "People can say, 'Wow, I want to ride that horse,'" he said.

Much work will involve dispelling myths or disproving inaccurate theories that are easily spread online. "The way that we're going today has been set by anybody who has a (computer) and access to the Internet," he said. "Anybody who can be a blogger or go on a forum can dictate the future of equestrianism, and they do."

Equestrian scientists must therefore be challenged, he said, to provide reliable facts and ensure that they are as widely accessible as other emerging theories online. "The public must believe that if you (the scientists) say something, it is true as we know it today."

But while the equestrian world can learn a lot from researchers in the coming years, researchers can also learn a lot from the equestrian world--a concept echoed by a Dutch researcher during the conference. "This is where we have to get to, to understand where the differences are between the two systems," Channon said. "They have to somehow build a bridge between the two."

Part of that bridge building, he said, must be led by equestrian sport's international federation--the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) in Lausanne, Switzerland. The FEI could create a "world class plan" which would make scientifically proven training and welfare concepts readily understandable and adoptable, he said. The FEI's Clean Sport effort in 2010 provides an excellent illustration of what the FEI could do with equitation science, according to Channon, who served on the Clean Sport commission.

"(The FEI) produced a plan which was understandable, which cleaned up the whole act," he said. "It was a brilliant execution. I would like to see them do it again with an Equestrian Ethics Commission.

"I think working with the FEI might be the way forward," Channon concluded.

Editor's Note: This article is part of's ongoing coverage of topics presented at the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science conference.


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.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More