/Equine Ethology, science at the service of the horse

Equine Ethology, science at the service of the horse

Ethology is the name of the science that studies animal behavior, of those that are free and domesticated.This is responsible for  analyzing animals biologically and psychologically, and seeks to interpret their behavior. In this article we will address the meaning of this science and its application to the horse that it’s called equine ethology

But also how it is associated with the behavior of horses and their relationship with man.

Trends in Equine Ethology

Today “ethological” currents have become very fashionable, ranging from “ethological” or “natural” taming to “ethological equitation”.

In this sense, it can be said that there are three main trends with different approaches to the horse and that must be differentiated.

Equine Ethology – Approach 1

This first approach arises according to the following concept: by nature, the horse is afraid of the man it considers a predator.

Therefore, the foal has to be detached from birth to break this negative association with man.

This is how the imprinting theory was born, Dr. Miller’s method.

Equine Ethology – Approach 2

The second current is based on the gregarious nature of the horse: the horse is a herd animal, it needs to feel protected by a leader.

In this order of ideas man must become the dominant figure.

That way you can work on the submissive nature and the instinct of acceptance of the horse.

This perspective constitutes the line of the “whisperer”, “natural taming” and the entire American movement.

Equine Ethology – Approach 3

Equine Ethology
Equine Ethology

Finally, professionals and scientists such as Danièle Gossin and Maurice Hontang consider the horse as a social-intelligent animal that communicates and can understand and learn.

All their education and training are based, then, on the stimulus of their own reflection, not only respecting their nature but also stimulating their mental and emotional growth.

This last approach is the only one whose content is based on the techniques of non-invasive ethology. That is, this approach does not modify the lifestyle of the horse, but training and management are adapted to the needs of each animal. In this way, a correct physical, mental and emotional balance is ensured.

What happens around equine ethology?

The terms equine ethology and ethological training are becoming commonplace in the equestrian domain. Yet they seem to be used with a conspicuous lack of clarity and with no mention of learning theory. Most of what we do to train horses runs counter to their innate preferences.

Taking a horse’s biological needs and capabilities into consideration can make for more efficient and more ethical horse training. This was said by many international equine behavior expert. This often-overlooked concept is now the first of 10 basic training principles adopted by the ISES. The ISES is the International Society for Equitation Science.

“Animals become reflections of the humans around them—showing how well those humans understand their ethology and take that into consideration in their training,”

Sue McDonnell

PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist and founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square

A horse’s social environment is one critical ethological factor to consider in training and management. Horses rely on a stable social structure with clearly defined limits among members. As prey animals, they find separation particularly stressful. As social animals, they need to express dominance and submission. This must be taken into account by riders, caregivers and trainers.

Equine ethology can give us tools to make equine training more effective and ethical. Equine ethology are more than nice words, it is a more human and natural way of doing things.







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