Filed in Category: horse training
Evaluation of Horse Behaviour by Professionals
Last year there was a paper presented to the International Equitation Science Conference in Sweden by Dr Sara Nyman et al. They asked professional horse people such as vets, trainers and dressage judges to evaluate the behaviour of horses that were lunged while fitted with tight reins.
The professionals were told to look for signs of mental stress such as gaping mouth, head tossing, rearing, tongue movement and any form of resistance. Each of the observed behaviours was to be given a grading from 0 to 7 (7 being the most severe expression by a horse) by the professional.
The study revealed that there was a high degree of inconsistency among the participants. People within a group did not closely agree. There was a particularly wide variation among the trainers. Likewise, the dressage judges were inconsistent, as were the equine vets. Not surprising there was just as big a variation between each group of professional too.
Nyman and her colleagues observed that professionals in each category used jargon to describe a horse’s behaviour that was different from the jargon of the other groups when describing the same behaviour. She also noted that the more experienced horse trainers gave lower ranking of severity to unwanted behaviour than did either the dressage judges or the equine vets.
Nyman concluded that there was a distinct lack of consistency both between the groups and within the groups when recognizing and describing resistance behaviour in horses.
Why is this not surprising?
In a world where people take different sides whether or not rolkur or hyperflexion is abuse of a horse or can’t agree whether foam from a horse’s mouth is a sign of a soft mouth or a stressed mouth, why should we expect people to agree on what is or is not resistance – severe or not?
It is an impossible task to have consistency among horse professionals when describing stress behaviour. There is no way to objectively measure and define the parameters, so we are reliant on people’s perception and personal evaluation.
To me, this would appear to be a major roadblock to developing a consistency in the standard of training and performance. Most horse sports consider the “happy horse” to be a part of their sport. They talk about a relaxed and calm horse as being the best horse for their sport. In some sports, judges are meant to give marks for the “happy horse”. But how can we do that if we can’t agree what is an “unhappy horse?” According to the study I just cited, we have trainers who can’t agree on what is resistance in a horse, preparing horses for competition to be judged by judges who can’t agree what is resistance behaviour in a horse. Does this sound like a good system to you?
In the end it’s the horse that pays the price for our inability to agree. It means some of us can be fooled into believing we have “happy horses” while our horses live a life of misery.
Which one of these two horses shows the most resistance? Why? You can click on them to enlarge.