The Science of Horse Training: Implications for rider safety and horse welfare


This multidisciplinary collaborative project addresses the urgent need for a scientific approach to horse training so as to enhance the welfare of horses and rider safety. Our studies are designed to: scientifically appraise mechanisms of equitation promote understanding of negative reinforcement improve horse welfare Our central hypothesis that pressures from riders can result in equine behaviour problems is plausible since: horses respond to pressure because it is aversive pressurerelease is the ridden horse’s chief reward items of equipment that elicit most responses in ridden horses (bits, spurs & whips) are instruments of NR understanding of NR by Australia’s professional riding coaches is poor Our data will show how poor timing of negative reinforcement and inconsistent and unrelenting pressures cause habituation, extinction, confusion in horses and thus compromise safety and compliance.


Thoroughbred Horses

Research Organisation

The University of Sydney

Objective Summary

Develop and validate novel tension and pressure measuring devices for riders, coaches, instructors and judges that permit assessment of the behaviour of humans as they engage with horse’s head, back and sides. Advance our understanding of negative reinforcement using the horse as a new model and thus make significant improvements in our understanding of negative reinforcement in general and learning in the ridden horse specifically. Quantify for the first time the role of equine discomfort in equitation and identify the characteristics of responses that have made the transition from being operantly conditioned to classically conditioned Develop a set of recommendations for the application of learning theory in equitation that can be disseminated by national and international peak bodies to their members, coaches and judges, and the broadest possible audience via the unique education platforms available through the Partner Organisations Develop and validate an innovative package of training tools for coaches that combine advances in sport measurement technology with learning theory for the careful objective evaluation of training methods that will ultimately improve welfare of horses and enjoyment of riders.

Project Code


Project Stage


Project Start Date

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Project Completion Date

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Journal Articles From Project

Not Available

National Priority

An environmentally sustainable Australia

National Priority

Soil, water and managing natural resources

National Priority

HOR-Reduce the incidence and impact of diseases and parasites in horses


Related publications


Equine Research News March 2013