Monday, 25 March 2013

Horse Training Traditions



That’s the way we’ve always done it… Sometimes it takes that non-horsey person in our lives to cause us to question the root of an equestrian tradition. (“Why do you mount on the left side?”) Other times, a training road block inspires us to look for a better way. (Is a nose band really the best answer to bit evasion? Is a fat snaffle always milder than a curb it? )

At the Can Am Equine Expo next weekend, Training horses: When Evidence and Traditions Collide is one of the seminars I’ll be sharing. Reminds me of a story…

I heard a lady tell of the time one of her kids asked why she always cut a ham in half and cooked it in 2 separate pans. “That’s just how you cook ham” sounded like such a lame reason that the lady called her own Mom, who was a wonderful cook. “Honey”, she answered, “I never owned a pan large enough to cook it whole, so I had to fit it into separate pans.”

Equine behaviourists are increasingly testing what we believe about horses through the lense of equitation science. Sounds clinical, but Equitation science is defined as "the application of scientific methods to assess objectively the welfare of horses undergoing training.” We now have technology to explore what’s really going on in there when we do what we do to horses. We can measure heart rate and stress hormone levels. We can take a look inside the equine mouth, measure our aids or digitally record every phase of a stride. We can set aside our human emotions and industry fashion for a bit and consider what traditions are best to hold on to and which might be better to drop.

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