Science-based approaches improve horse training

Science Scene: ‘Equine behavior and learning theory’

Science-based approaches improve horse training 

October 11, 2018

Equestrian Science ProgramVeterinary and Animal Sciences 

The UMass Equine Science program has just expanded to offer a four-year Equine Science concentration, becoming one of the first programs in the U.S. to consider and use equine behavior and learning theory to improve equine welfare in the context of training and handling horses. The program shifted this fall from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to the Veterinary and Animal Sciences department. 

What’s the big idea? 

CassandraUricchioand myself are new members of the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) and will soon get our students involved. This organization promotes an evidence-based understanding of the welfare of horses. As they state, “[ISES]provides a pool of expertise for international bodies and academic institutions that have questions related to Equitation Science. Equitation Science promotes an objective, evidence-based understanding of welfare of horses during training and competition by applying valid, quantitative scientific methods that can identify what training techniques are ineffective or may result in suffering."  

We have an evidence-backed system to help us to better understand what is most ethical. 


It is very exciting to begin to include Equitation Science in our program, more specifically equine behavior and learning theory and the use of theISESprinciples of learning theory. Through teaching our students to always train and work with horses using theprinciplesof learning theory, we can improve the welfare of our horses and we have an evidence-backed system to help us to better understand what is most ethical. This is especially important for retraining horses with behavior issues and training young horses but is practical in everyday life.  

What happens next? 

The techniques developed based on the principles of learning theory are extremely important to all human horse interactions. The principles of learning theory and study of equitation science helps veterinarians, farriers, and equine practitioners of all kindsTrainers of all disciplines will have more success using this scientifically proven system of training based on the ethology and behavior of the horse. This is relevant to all aspects of the equine industry and will help us to create more ethical practice within the industry.  

Share this story: