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ISES conference, Saumur, DAY 2

Day 2 of the International Society for Equitation Science conference was the practical day where we were treated to various demonstrations of equitation science in practice. It was held in the main arena, clad with gold framed mirrors, chestnut wooden side boards, and a chandelier in the centre. Not a bad place to spend the day!

First up we had Andy Booth demonstrating how to apply learning theory in-hand and under-saddle. Andy had a natural horsemanship background before discovering the science behind horse training, so his methods still slightly mimicked this. He started off showing the in-hand responses such as backwards, forwards, and moving the hind quarters. He stressed the importance of self carriage, as well as maintaining sensitivity yet avoiding fear. He begins in a halter before moving to the snaffle bridle. Andy’s horse which he had owned for 10 years was a testament to his training skills. The horse was incredibly light to the aids, relaxed and well behaved. He moved to under-saddle showing his aids for the basic responses using quite defined leg positions for various movements, moving his horse around with leg and postural cues only.

Andy highlighted the importance of our role as educators in the world of horse training and riding: “scientists need to be there to help change the horse industry. Help trainers, don’t criticise”. I love this sentiment – change does not come from criticism, it comes from supporting and educating people.

Next up we had Jill Carey who manages the Festina Lente, a riding school assisting people with various disabilities (mental, social). They host approximately 500 visitors a week, which means each horse interacts with as many as 27 people a day. As you can imagine, this could be very detrimental for the horses without proper management and training. Jill has implemented various procedures to help improve horse welfare at the centre such as education for their horse handlers, social interaction space between stables so that horses can groom each other and play (there are no paddocks available due to lack of space), a continuous feeding system, training using ES principles fixing various problems for easier management, and much more. One interesting point was to change the name of the whip to ‘wand’. It’s a simple idea however she reported a noticeable shift in how people used the ‘wand’ when it no longer was recognised as a whip. Interesting point!

Next up we had Colonel Patrick Teisserenc & Fabiaen Godelle demonstrating how to train ‘airs above the ground’, or in other words, the croubettes (rears) and croupades (bucks) in-hand.
The total time to train these responses from the horse’s early training to having learned the tricks is five years. He began by habituation the horse to the whip, then showed head down and various exercises for collection and yield. The reins were held on the left side of the neck, over the poll. The outside rein was for forward, the inside rein for stop.
Once working in a piaffe type movement, the head position was the important factor for each trick. Piaffe steps with the poll raised for collection (causing the hindquarters to come under the horse) was the starting position for a croubette (rear), whilst this position with the poll low (to cause the hindquarters to move out) was the position for a Croupade (buck). The horse completed the task with such control and finesse, great to watch.

Next up we had Lindsay Wilcox talk about rider biomechanics. She showed that by measuring the rider in various positions gave her the numbers as to whether he was aligned or not. As with most horse riders (and people in general), the demo rider was uneven in the hips. A few movements and exercises helped even him up. Aligning the rider helps with giving clear, balanced pressures, making it easier for the horse to be balanced too.

Manuel Godin presented two lovely horses he had trained himself, expressing the importance of a strong foundation in order to promote relaxation in various competition or testing environments. He worked in hand a lot, on the lunge promoting lightness of cues and self carriage. Manuel felt it was incredibly important to have a good understanding relationship with the horse.

After lunch we had Emily Freeland and Nicolas Sanson talked about how we associate work health and performance in riding and horse management. He talked about being mindful of your body posture and movements to help strengthen and condition your own body. Even tasks such as grooming your horse can be an opportunity to warm up your own body prior to getting on.

Marianne Vidament and Léa Lansade showed the practical application of their personality test from Day 1 with two horses. The tests followed the following order:
1. Tactile test with device with filament (4 types of pressure .008-1g)
2. Close circle around scary object
3. Walk on to tarp motivated by food
4. Umbrella opening test – how far does he run spook
5. Trot up testing conformation and responses
6. Free jumping
7. Behaviour whilst measuring height etc

The horses showed a fairly high level of sensitivity and quite large reactions to the fearful stimuli. After the test people discussed whether there was a way to test a horses reaction to a fearful stimuli without inadvertently training them to be fearful (by creading the flight response, and not correcting it).

Finally Hugo Cousillas showed his ambulatory electroencephalography system (EEG reader) which can be used on free moving horses to measure brain function.
Unlike other systems, this device can take brain function readings without anaesthesia, wires or any surgical procedure.

The EEG helmet is usable at home, easy and quick to fix to the horses head, and usable on a free moving horse.

This is a really exciting development and will have a huge place in the equestrian world for research, studying sleep, brain disorders (such as epilepsy), Brian disease and general brain function.

That brings the practical day to an end. What an eye opening and interesting day! The horses used in the training demonstrations were a testament to equitation science training as they were so calm and obedient. It was fantastic to see.

The social event was in the evening at the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud. We started with a tour around the Abbey which dates back to the 1100’s , followed by champagne and canapés. Great night!