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ISES Down Under – Day 1, Sophie’s blog

We arrived at Charles Sturt University last night where we were allocated our accommodation, followed by a welcome by Dr Hayley Randle and a presentation by Dr Andrew McLean on the 10 Principles of Training. No matter how many times I hear that presentation, I still take home a new message which is quite impressive! Never a boring presentation. With everyone excited to catch up after a year had passed since the conference in Saumur, food and wine was abundant and everyone got into the spirit of a fun few days of learning, analysing and discussing.


This morning we started at 8:30am with a plenary by Dr Hayley Randle on the past, present and future of Equitation Science in Practice. ISES was originally founded by 5 key people: Natalie Warren, Andrew Mclean, Paul McGreevy, Debbie Goodwin and Machteld van Dierendonck. The cornerstones of what ISES is are Equine Ethology, Learning Theory, Equine Psychology, and Equine Welfare, so they address the equine industry from many standpoints which is why ISES is such a credible and exciting society to be a part of. Hayley talked about research presented, what qualifies as good research and the standards to adhere to to maintain momentum and impact within the equine industry. It was noted that good research is great, but it doesn’t have an impact in society without collaboration, communication and change… so that’s the theme of ISES Down Under.


Next up we had a 2 hour workshop called ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” lead by Natalie Warren. Andrew Mclean, Paul McGreevy, Jan Ladewig, Hayley Randle and Cammie Heleski have all been hugely instrumental in the movement behind ISES, but this workshop was to discuss who their main influencers were: “Each one of us here has benefited from the platform of work provided by others”.

Andrew’s main influences were behavioural scientists such as Skinner, Hull, Watson & Guthrie. Without their initial research into behaviourism (although sometimes controversial) we wouldn’t be where we are now. Paul’s influencers were ethologists (Frisch, Lorenz, Tinbergen). Jan’s was veterinary behaviourist, Ben Hart, Hayley’s was Martha Kyle-Worthington, and Cammie’s were more modern: Hillary Clayton, Debbie Goodwin, Jan Ladewig, Paul McGreevy, Andrew Mclean and Natalie Warren.

It was interesting to hear where the passion began for Andrew, Paul, Jan, Hayley and Cammie, and a great place to start for a discussion. The discussions tended to circulate around how we (the ES supporters) reach out and integrate with the rest of the horse community – how we deal with social media, stereotypes and communicate with the large industry federations. The general consensus was education and healthy, non-emotive, well researched conversation was the way to disseminate evidence based training and knowledge.

Aside from academic giants, special mention went to the practical influencers of ES practitioners – Reiner Klimke, Kira Kirklund, Tom Roberts,  Ray Hunt and John Whitaker. All of whom practiced good equitation science without actually having a label for it.


My favourite quote – “Whatever a horse is forced to do, it will do without understanding and beauty. Just like a dancer who gets abused would dance; without grace” – Xeneophon


After morning tea, we heard a plenary from Jan Ladewig about body language –between horses, between horses and humans, and humans and horses. Jan studied body language as a way of communicating with a study where horses had to interacted with an attentive human and a non-attentive human, and the results among other things showed horses need to learn to read body language, it doesn’t come innately. The adult horses in the test group could read body language better than the young horses. He discussed how horses interact with each other, through body language, and also how horses can learn to feel our body language even on the smallest scale when he referenced how a horse reacted to just the riders anticipation of a scary event.


Next up, Marc Pierard discussed the need for an ethogram to help understand and standardise human perceptions pf behaviours, so that we can interpret horse behaviour in a measurable standardised way. He collected data on different practitioners understanding of particular behaviours and found that there are so many different perceptions of various behaviours.


Katrina Merrkies then presented her research into whether we can measure stress by analysing eye blink rates. She conducted a study where she measured the horses’ eye-blink rate (full blink, half blink and flutter) for various ‘stressful’ situations – feed restriction (not getting feed when others are), separation and startling. The general findings were that eye-blinks decreased when stressed, however eye ‘fluttering (rapid eyebrow movement) increased. This method could be used in future as an indicator of stress.


Next up, Samantha Franklin wanted to research the affects of tongue ties on stress in horses. Tongue ties are commonly used in racing however there has been no research into whether it is effective, but a lot to say it affects welfare. She tested 12 standardbreds, some who had been tongue tied before, and others that hadn’t. The results of her study showed that horses showed increased head tossing, ears back, gaping and cortisol levels. Those who had been tongue tied before showed even stronger behaviours.


Next up, Barbara Padalino conducted studies on the health affects of transporting horses. She studied 12 horses travelling on an 8 hour trip. She tested their behaviour, their balance, head position, and tracheal mucus pre and post trip via a scope. The findings showed that behaviour and head position increased in the first hour, then decreased as the horse began to calm down. The interesting part was the mucus samples. Cloudy mucus indicates bacteria, and there was a strong correlation between horses who didn’t have their head lowered often, had more cloudy mucus post travel. The findings showed that these horses are more likely to get travel sick. A good way to control your horse getting sick from long term travel, is to test for bacteria before travelling and treat before travelling if the mucus shows signs of bacteria, as travelling will most likely increase the chances of the horse becoming sick. Also interestingly, it took 24 hours for the horses heart rate and cortisol levels to return to normal after travel, so keep that in mind if you’re heading on a big trip – leave 24 hours of rest available before work.


Iris Huisman presented a study on the timing between the marker and the reward in clicker training. She tested 15 horses, teaching them to touch a ball though clicker training, but split them into 3 groups – immediate reward, 10 second delay and 20 second delay. The results showed the horses on the immediate reward schedule learned much faster than the others. A 10 second delay was still somewhat effective with some horses, and less still for the horses on a 20 second delay.


Nikki Cross then presented the code of welfare used in NZ for donkeys and horses. The code of welfare was developed by NAWAC, and maintains the standard that owners and persons in charge of horses and donkeys must meet. NZ are really doing good things to improve the welfare of horses in their country!


Kate Fenner then presented her study for the development of the Equine Behaviour and Research Questionnaire (E-BARQ). She conducted a survey of horse owners about the way they manage and train their horses. Then the horses were trained to step back from bit pressure for 5 metres. Horses ridden regularly by beginners showed to slowest rate of learning which suggests the way we manage and train horses affects their learning ability.


Emily Fernauld presented her survey on the perceptions of the use of technology to measure horse health. Her findings showed that horse owners who compete appeared more interested in using technology to measure things like heart rate, activity, temperature, but most said they would use it only when the horse was sick, not in a day to day routine.


Brandon Rice presented his research surveying young riders (8-18 year old)’s perceptions of equine welfare issues among common training practices. It was nice to hear that children as young as 8 could recognise when a horse was moderately or severely stressed. That says good things for our future equestrians!


Angelo Telatin showed his findings on the effectiveness of the use of the whip when used as continuous taps (until the horse shows the correct response), taps spaced every 1.5 seconds (until the horse shows the correct response), and taps spaced every 3 seconds (until the horse shows the correct response). He did this because a lot of the large federations in racing and equestrian have restrictions on the number of whip taps and frequency that are acceptable. His findings showed that horses who were trained to yield from continuous whip taps until the desired response was achieved learned much faster. The horses who experienced the 1.5-3 second frequency taps offered other behaviours such as rearing, bucking, and due to the timing of the taps, continued to display these behaviours. The real regulation on whips in sport needs to be on the way whips are used – as it is commonly still used as a punisher, rather than a reinforcer.


Finally, the last presentation of the day was by Elise Lofgren, presenting her findings on the perceptions and attitudes of equine training practices such as hyperflexion, the use of spurs and tight nosebands in online forums in specific disciplines. She found that most people had fairly uneducated views and suggested what we have all been thinking – education is so important when it comes to improving horse welfare… and we have a long way to go.


Well it’s 7pm and people have been drinking wine at the bar since 6:30 so I had better get changed and join them! We have our formal dinner tonight, and I’m so looking forward to discussing todays presentations.


Sorry if this report is rushed or some presentations are brief, I have had less than an hour to get my pile of notes together!


-Sophie 🙂