Welfare in trained horses

The first principles introduced by International Society for Equitation Science


  • #horsemanship
  • #equine science
  • #communication

The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) is a not-for-profit organisation that chiefly aims to facilitate research into training of horses to enhance horse welfare and improve the horse-rider relationship. Equitation Science promotes an underastanding of the welfare of horses during training and competition by applying valide scientific methods that can identify what training techinques are ineffective or may result in equine suffering.

ISES set10 training principles presented as ‘First Principles’ for all horse training interactions. As first Principles, these stand as non-negotiable obligations for trainers to maintain optimal welfare in trained horses as well as optimal training efficiency. The principles are comprehensive and include all aspects of the training of the horse.
The principle number 1 is: train according to the horse’s ethology and cognition. It refers to the fundamental concepts of Ethology and Cognition.
Starting from this first point ISES develops a training system based on learning theory of horses, on his natural habits and behaviour, on his social lifestyle, on his emotions and sensibility, and last but not least on his relationship with human beings.

Ethology is the study of animal behaviour that provides information on how horses have evolved to live. It helps to explain natural equine social structures, including complex dynamic social organisation with a social rank that determines access to resources. Horses need the company of their own species and readily form attachment bonds, so isolation is detrimental. They have evolved to walk and graze for about 16 hours per day and their digestive system and behaviours have adapted to this regimen.

Cognition refers to the ways animals process information about the world. Compared to humans, their prefrontal cortex is diminished, so horses may not recall events as we do. They excel at memorising and recognising stimuli that trigger certain responses – this is what keeps them safe. We must be careful not to overestimate equine intelligence (e.g., “he knows what he did wrong”), especially in an attempt to justify punishment. Equally, we should not underestimate equine intelligence by supposing that horses don’t have emotions and feelings. Welafare implications: Over-or underestimating horses’ intelligence has negative welfare implications. Isolation, restricted locomotion and foraging have welfare implications.

To know the 10 First Principles: www.equitationscience.com.