Getting Equitation Science Research Into the Real World - Equine Health and Welfare

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Getting Equitation Science Research Into the Real World

HCBC Staff
Created: November 18, 2014
Modified: December 2, 2014

It is important to bring a little science into the horse training world,

As equitation science advances, researchers say they’re recognizing the increasing need to share their findings with the riding public. And one group of Scottish scientists believes a good way to reach horse owners is through their veterinarians.

“We want to bridge the gap between the fantastic knowledge that comes out of these (scientific) conferences and the real world,” said Gemma Pearson, BVMS, MRCVS, of the University of Edinburgh. Pearson and Bryony Waggett, HND, BSc(Hons), MSc, of the University of Edinburgh, represented their research at the 2014 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Bredsten, Denmark.

Working with Natalie Waran, PhD, also of the University of Edinburgh, Pearson and Waggett have been proactively integrating equitation science into the veterinary classrooms and hospital of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland. Over the past three and a half years, the team has developed lectures and hands-on training programs for the students, professors, and even clinic grooms. Their work has reached at least 600 students so far, they said.

Two years ago, Pearson demonstrated the benefits of learning theory—a critical aspect of equitation science—to the safety of both horse and handler in a clinic setting. Encouraged by the results, the group has continued to ensure that the research coming out of the equitation science field filters into the university’s training and practice programs.

“Is there really a gap to be bridged?” said Pearson. “Well, we know that equitation science and learning theory are not traditionally taught in the veterinary curriculum. And a lot of horse owners seem confused by the different training approaches, between natural horsemanship and scientific methodology versus classic dressage, versus modern dressage, etc.”

Additionally, she said, many veterinarians and veterinary students find themselves in dangerous situations—as often as daily, according to a survey Pearson took of practitioners in 2012. “It’s important to integrate what we know into the teaching, to change the way things are done, and make a safer environment for everyone and a happier environment for the horse,” she said.

Furthermore, many veterinary students come from backgrounds that include very little interaction with horses, Pearson said. Some even come from countries or cultures where horses are not kept as pets but as livestock, so their appreciation of a horse’s learning ability is extremely limited. “Some students come from countries such as Hong Kong or from big cities in the USA where they have never seen a horse before,” she added.

The group’s training program includes lectures on equitation science, welfare, and husbandry; optional practical behavior courses; and online courses primarily for grooms, Pearson and Waggett said.

“Even a single lecture can make a difference,” Pearson said. “I have had many comments from students saying that they felt more competent about working with horses now.”

Graduates who have gone into the working world with the equitation science knowledge have been able to have a positive influence on co-workers and even employers, said Pearson. And, she said, established veterinarians who have hired recent veterinary graduates with equitation science training have contacted the team to say that they are impressed with their new hire’s ability with horses.

“Learning theory has now become a first-line approach,” Pearson said. “Whereas before a difficult horse might be restrained, twitched (or even blindfolded), and sedated for an exam or treatment, now they’re being prepared with positive and negative reinforcement.”

The team said their work has also resulted in an increased number of requests from practitioners for behavior consultations by the equitation science staff.

“We have succeeded in making a model in this vet school where we are changing hearts and minds, where we are making a difference,” Pearson said. “The next step is to make this part of the normal veterinary curriculum in other schools throughout the world.”
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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