Researchers from around the world have worked together to develop guidelines to aid scientific study in the emerging discipline of equitation science.
The aim of equitation science is the scientific measurement, evaluation and interpretation of human-horse interactions to provide evidence that can improve the training, performance and welfare of the ridden horse.
One issue is that the field covers a range of scientific disciplines, including approaches taken from anatomy and physiology, ethology, physics and psychology.
Inevitably, for a new discipline, various methodological issues have to be resolved.
These include research design and methodology, reliable collection and standardised recording of behavioural and physiological data, and the use, limitations and requirements of technological equipment.
The standardisation of scientific evaluation would enable research results to be pooled, allowing comparisons between studies.
This, in turn, would mean that findings could be applied across horses in various contexts and increase the quality and the impact of research involving horses, riders and the horse-human interface.
To advance these aims, researchers Uta König von Borstel, Marc Pierard, Kathalijne Visser, Carol Hall, Lesley Hawson, Charlotte Nevison, Francis Burton, Andrew McLean, Alison Averis and Paul McGreevy committed to developing robust objective measures and establishing standards for research techniques and evaluative inquiry that fulfil the criteria for sound scientific evaluation of equestrian activities.
McGreevy, updating delegates at the recent International Equitation Science Conference in Denmark, provided an overview of the process. He has guided the work since the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) held its first consensus workshop in 2012.
The project assembled the pool of research experts, who have identified the key points that future researchers should consider and summarised the preferred techniques for a range of studies involving horses.
The collaborators, located worldwide and hailing from seven universities and two independent organisations, have compiled a report, “Protocols for research in equitation science”, that aims to provide an evaluation of current scientific research methodology; and to set out initial guidelines on features of experimental design, consistent methodology, and reporting of future research in equitation science.
They believe that the report’s recommendations provide a fundamental step in establishing equitation science research and that the potential impact of future research will be enriched and refined.
“It is pleasing to see the report being so warmly embraced by the research community because this is precisely the sort of cooperative work that the ISES was established to foster,” McGreevy told delegates.
“We are greatly encouraged by suggestions that this review be published as an open-access article in a peer-reviewed journal; an option that will deliver this material to as wide an audience as possible.”
McGreevy noted that “this is a living document and it is anticipated that these guidelines will be updated regularly with the emergence of new technology and software, including equipment for individual riders and coaches”.
Proposing standards in experimental design and research methodologies for studies involving horses and riders permits an enduring approach that will inform, facilitate and enhance future research in equitation science, he said.