Scientific Training Principles

Equine Scientific Training Principles

During 2010 The International Society for Equitation Science adopted the first training principles as being essential elements in equitation.

The 8 principles were defined in peer-reviewed scientific literature (McGreevy and McLean, 2007 – The roles of learning theory and ethology in equitation, Journal of Veterinary Behaviour) and are not restricted in application to any single methodology of horse training. Lisa applies the AEBC Academic Horse Training system which has embedded each of the 8 principles with each lesson facilitating effective, ethical and safe training session and performances.


Use learning theory appropriately

This is a broad principle and requires that negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement, classical conditioning and habituation are correctly employed in horse training. For example, negative reinforcement is implicit in horse training and is seen in the pressure release of signals (aids). It is critical that any pressures are released so that horse’s responses are correctly reinforced and that the horse is free of continuous or relentless pressure.


Train easy to discriminate signals (to avoid confusion)

There are many responses required in horse training systems and yet there is a limit on the number of anatomical locations to which unique signals can be delivered. From the horse’s viewpoint, overlapping signal locations can be very confusing, so it is essential that signals are applied in locations that are as isolated and discrete as possible.


Train and shape responses singularly (to avoid confusion)

It is prerequisite for effective learning that learned responses are trained one at a time. This entails breaking responses down to single irreducible components and then building them one-by-one in a process called shaping.


Train only one response per signal (to avoid confusion)

To avoid confusing horses, it is essential that all signals elicit just one response. [On the contrary, however, there is no problem with a single response being elicited by more than one signal.] Sometimes a response may be complex and may consist of several trained elements. These should be shaped (built) progressively. For example, the “go forward” response is expected to include an immediate reaction to a light signal, a consistent rhythm, in a straight line and with a particular head carriage. These should be progressively included within the whole learned response to a “go forward” signal.


Responses to be completed within a consistent structure (transitions within a defined number of footfalls to confer predictability)

For effective habit formation to occur, it is important that learned responses are trained and subsequently elicited within a certain time-frame. This applies to transitions which are learned when the number of footfalls is the same for each transition.


Train persistence of responses (self-carriage)

It is a fundamental characteristic of ethical training systems that, once each response is elicited, the animal continues with the behaviour. The horse should not be subject to continual signaling of leg (spur) or rein pressure.


Avoid and disassociate flight responses (because of their resistance to extinction and problems with fear)

When animals experience fear, all characteristics of the environment at the time (including humans present) may be associated with the fear. It is known that fear responses do not fade as other responses do and that fearful animals tend not to trial new learned responses. It is therefore essential that fear is avoided in training.


Benchmark relaxation (to ensure the absence of conflict)

Relaxation during training must be prioritized and therefore when conflict behaviours are observed, training methods should be carefully examined so that these behaviours are minimised and ultimately avoided. Nosebands and other restraining equipment should be sufficiently loose so that conflict behaviours expressed by the horse are seen and avoided/ retrained.