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Conference Theme: Embracing Science to Enhance Equine Welfare and Horse–Human Interactions

The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) held its 9th annual conference in the United States. The scientific days were hosted at the University of Delaware, Newark, DE and the Practical Day was hosted at the New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania. The Equine Excursion took place at Hassler Dressage at Riveredge and the Delaware Race Park.

The conference brought together 110 delegates from 14 countries to discuss topics related to equine behavior and welfare, as well as horse–human interactions. Subthemes of the conference included Sports Psychology for the Rider, Enhancing the Welfare of Competition Horses, Getting the Message Out About Equitation Science and Learning Theory, What About the Other 23 Hours of the Day?, Safety Aspects of the Horse Industry, Testing Learning Theory, and Assessing Measurement Tools Used in the Study of Equitation Science.

Throughout the conference four outstanding plenary talks were delivered, commencing with a jointly presented talk by Professor Natalie Waran, University of Edinburgh and Dr Hayley Randle, Duchy College, UK on advancing evidence-based practice and learning in equitation. The presentation encouraged all within the Equitation Science community to use the best evidence possible when making decisions related to equine management, training and performance.

A plenary presented by Professor Hilary Clayton, Michigan State University, provided research updates, and new insights on the complex topic of the human/horse/saddle interface with Clayton reminding researchers of common problems that can arise when using electronic saddle pressure mats. Plenary presenter Professor Jan Ladewig of Copenhagen University discussed “What about the other 23 hours of the day?” In other words, how does the way a horse spend its day when not being ridden or trained impact its overall welfare? Ladewig presented compelling points for providing environments for horses that more closely mimic natural conditions than is often provided. Then to really stir delegates’ brains plenary presenters Professor Paul McGreevy, University of Sydney, and Dr Andrew McLean, Australian Equine Behaviour Centre, presented Arousal, attachment and affective state, reminding delegates that horses are easily put into a state of high arousal and when they are in this state, they have a difficult time learning new tasks and that there is also an increased risk of injury to human handlers. The presentation was an excellent review of literature in this area, also a call to conduct much more research on these topics.

Other highlights included an Invited Practitioner Talk by Janet Del Castillo who generously donated copies of her book Backyard Racehorse to all conference delegates. Del Castillo’s goals are to make racing more user-friendly for people interested in joining the industry, and to find simple ways to enhance the welfare of race horses. Also on the topic of racing, Alex Brown and Tim Woolley were the guest speakers for the conference banquet which was held at the Fair Hill Training Center. Wooley is a successful racehorse trainer at Fair Hill; and Brown is the author of Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy, with copies generously donated to banquet guests.

Conference delegates were presented with two outstanding Practical Day options. Option One provided a day of demonstrations and discussion at the University of Pennsylvania, New Bolton Center hosted by Professor Sue McDonnell, author of The Equid Ethogram and numerous articles on horse behaviour. McDonnell and colleagues from the School of Veterinary Medicine presented ‘Is it Physical, Psychological, or Both?’ Equine cases that had come to the clinic with complex symptoms were presented and discussed.

Assisted by college students, Angelo Telatin, Director of the Equine Studies Program at Delaware Valley College provided interesting demonstrations highlighting the importance of implementing learning theory principles and accurate timing when attempting to re-train horses presenting with clipper aversion or needle shyness. Telatin also performed a bridleless jumping demonstration whilst sharing his methodology for training the horse to respond to a range of cues. Telatin emphasised that the goal was not to ‘teach the horse a trick’ but rather that a well-trained horse should not need to be given aids all of the time to perform tasks that are well confirmed. The day concluded with delegates visiting a herd of 100 semi-feral ponies that have been housed near the New Bolton Center since 1994. The herd thrive in minimally managed conditions and have served as the study subjects for Professor McDonnell’s book, The Equid Ethogram.

Option Two, The Equine Excursion, provided delegates with a tour of Hassler Dressage at Riveredge http://hasslerdressage.com/hasslerdressage and Select Breeders Services http://www.selectbreeders.com  followed by a trip to Delaware Park Racetrack http://www.delawarepark.com to watch Thoroughbred racing. A race was named in honour of ISES with delegates photographed alongside the winning horse.

Photographs: Elke Hartmann

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