I Heart Equine Guelph

My 4th course with Equine Guelph began this week, Equine Welfare. The instructor is the director of the program, who also instructed the Equine Industry course I took last term. At the beginning of both courses she encouraged students to reflect on our experience with horses, the role(s) we play within the equine industry and our goals for the future. At the end of the last course, we were asked to revisit what we had written at the beginning and note if and how our values, perspectives and ideas had shifted.

I love these reflexive moments and find them to be of tremendous value. They force me to really take a look at how my understanding of and relationship with horses has changed. It’s been a fascinating, informative journey so far, one that has given me a great deal of knowledge to apply when I finally have a horse of my own. It has also given me insight into the type of role I see myself playing in the industry. Thank you, Gayle. Owl Equestrian is another step in that journey, a place to share knowledge and promote equine welfare.

4 months ago, I admittedly thought of the equine industry in terms of performance, breeding, and showing. I viewed my relationship with horses (pet, companion, hobby) as entirely separate from the industry. I now have a broader perspective of how the industry operates and understand that all equine pursuits are a part of it. I’ve also become increasingly aware of how many routine management practices are not necessarily in the best interest of the horse.

Re-entering the horse world after several years away, taking riding lessons from someone other than my mother, participating in a number of horsemanship classes to brush up on my knowledge and skills, and leasing someone else’s horse, have been a series of exciting and sometimes challenging experiences. There have also been some eye-opening moments along the way.

One of the biggest surprises has been how differently the three stables I’ve ridden at are managed. They differ vastly in terms of housing, turn-out, etc. Having observed some clear signs of distress in several horses at one of the stables, I quietly wondered about the rationale behind their management practices. I later learned that these practices, although somewhat foreign to me, are quite common – which leads me to feel a great deal of pride in knowing that the way my mother cared for her horses aligned very closely with everything I’ve learned in the Equine Guelph program so far.

Over the past 8 months, I’ve had the opportunity to dig deeper into a number of issues. Of particular interest have been topics related to shoeing, blanketing, anthropomorphism, barrier frustration, imprint training, equitation science, and learning theory. These last two topics are of particular interest to me.

Understanding and incorporating learning theory and the principles of equitation science into all levels of horse training and management has indispensable value for everyone involved in the equine industry, humans and horses alike. I believe there is a strong connection between equine welfare and advances made in understanding the cognitive abilities of the horse.

With a deeper understanding of equine behaviour, perception and learning processes, we can develop and apply more species-appropriate methods to the management and training of horses. Strides made in recognizing and working within these parameters and understanding the behaviourial and health effects of housing and training will undoubtedly improve other areas of horse health and welfare.

The welfare of the horse should be of the utmost concern to anyone involved in the industry. I look forward to deepening my knowledge around the topic.