Experts probe knowledge of equine body language

Better understanding of horse behaviour could reduce accident rates, experts believe.
Better understanding of horse behaviour could reduce accident rates, experts believe.

Deficiencies in knowledge of horse behaviour may be leading to more horse-related accidents, according to experts.

According to the Danish Animal Welfare Society, Danish riding schools currently provide a limited education on understanding horse behaviour.

Each year, on average, more than 9000 Danish riders are admitted to emergency rooms after interactions with a horse, with half of those injuries occurring while the rider was unmounted, or working near the horse. About two of the total yearly accidents result in death.

It is thought that these events may be a result of riders misinterpreting horse behaviour. Greater knowledge and awareness of horse body language could lead to fewer such incidents, researchers told the International Society for Equitation Science conference in the United States this week.

Through developing an online website, the Danish Animal Welfare Society was able to both offer educational videos and test the knowledge of riders on horse behaviour.

Of the 4539 test results gathered, riders scored on average of 72.5 percent on questions regarding horse behaviour.

Of those tested, the youngest and oldest age ranges (5-14 years and 60-90 years) garnered the lowest scores, with people in their 30s scoring the highest.

While results from the testing showed that Danish riders scored relatively high on overall knowledge of horse behaviour, a good percentage of those same tested riders lacked a deeper understanding of the subtle nuances in horse body language.

When asked to specifically qualify what led riders to describe particular behavioural states they had observed in pictures and short video clips, many were unable to elaborate on the exact body language clues that led them to their decisions.

Riders may also over-estimate their knowledge when it comes to understanding horse behaviour, with those identifying as experts in reading horse behaviour receiving similar scores as those who claim to have an average-to-high level of experience.

Faced with this result, Payana Hendriksen, of the Danish Animal Welfare Society, explained that although some riders consider themselves experts, the scope of that knowledge may be lacking.

“Maybe you might have holes in your knowledge. You have not managed to develop your knowledge on horse behaviour.”

The results of the study may help the next generation improve their understanding of horse behaviour, which could result in fewer accidents each year, Hendriksen said.

Hendriksen continues: “Horse riding is very traditional. The longer you’ve been there – you’ve been riding for so many years – it might be difficult to accept that you can learn more than what you’ve learned already.

“We’re going to focus on the kids, and trying to incorporate horse behaviour in riding schools. That’s our mission.”

Latest research and information from the horse world.

One thought on “Experts probe knowledge of equine body language

  • July 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    When I read the first sentence, once I stopped banging my head on my desk, I had to wonder why the word “may” was used. Misinterpretation of horse behavior IS the leading cause of horse-related accidents, period. Once we know how to read a horse (and communicate with it), the safety level increases exponentially.

    This is why we do Parelli Natural Horsemanship, an internationally-renowned program specifically designed to educate horse owners on the most finite details of understanding horse behavior and motivation and psychology. The program also teaches the human how to overcome the innate predatory human tendencies and learn how to not only read the horse accurately but be able to “speak” to it (communicate) using body language in a way that the horse will actually understand and respond to.

    I don’t know about your writers, but I crawled out from under my rock 12 years ago to discover Parelli, and Pat Parelli has been teaching his method for nearly 30 years.

    Parelli is the only horsemanship program that teaches these concepts with this profound level of depth. I urge your writers to research the program and read the success stories and testimonials out there.


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