Communicating science to horse owners and managers

May 20, 2019 | by Katrina Merkies, Associate Professor, University of Guelph

How do I tell [people] that I study horse behaviour to learn better how horses and humans interact?

How do you get horse people to try something new? It seems the world of horses is steeped in tradition and centuries-old ways of doing things. While tradition is an important part of culture, technology also helps to advance culture. Those of us who have been around a little longer can look back and see the incredible progress that has been made just during our lifetime, but we can also look back and see some of the same practices happening that we learned as young ‘uns, despite updated knowledge that informs us of better ways of doing things.

Since becoming a professor, I have had the opportunity to become intimately involved in research, which has also afforded me the opportunity to meet some amazing researchers from around the world. These people work tirelessly to push our understanding of horse behaviour, horse cognition, horse biomechanics, horse nutrition, horse physiology and horse management to name a few areas. I read their research findings regularly, but then I have access to scientific journals that most industry people do not. I also generally don’t have trouble understanding the scientific jargon used in these manuscripts. But I do find myself challenged when I go out to the barn to ride my horse, and someone asks me to explain what I do. How do I tell them that I study horse behaviour to learn better how horses and humans interact? I might be met with a snort (not from the horse) and a comment about learning about horse behaviour is better done in a barn than a lab.

I am lucky here in Guelph as I have access to Equine Guelph, a centre that promotes education, research and industry development. They have writers who take all the scientific jargon that I must use in my scientific reports, and transform it into something understandable for the average horse owner. This is a win-win situation for all parties – horse owners get up-to-date information to inform their practices, and I get my research findings disseminated to those who would benefit from them – the horses of course.

So I am looking forward to the workshop being presented by Kate Fenner and Cristina Wilkins during the International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) Conference being held in Guelph, ON, August 18-21. Using results from a survey on where horse owners and managers get their information and what information they are looking for, this pair of equine experts from Australia will guide us through how to strategically tailor research findings to make them accessible. You can participate in the survey by clicking here. The more survey responses there are, the better the workshop can be tailor to specific needs.

kate profile isesKate Fenner is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney in Australia. She is also a certified coach and trainer and has ridden, trained and competed in Dressage, Jumping, Western and polo in Australia, Europe, USA and Asia. She founded Kandoo Equine to teach people how to train their own horses using ethical, easy to follow, step-by-step guides that are suitable for horses and riders of all levels.

Cristina photoCristina Wilkins is the publisher and editor of Australian-based Horses and People, a magazine and online community that promotes ethical, sustainable and evidence-based information on horse keeping and training. She grew up eventing, showjumping and coaching in Spain, the UK, New Zealand and then Australia but everything changed after translating Dr McLean’s ‘The truth about horses’ into Spanish and discovering learning theory.

Both Fenner and Wilkins serve as council members for ISES, helping the society in communications and media relations. Register today for the ISES conference to participate in their workshop entitled “Lost in translation? Understanding and improving the communication of science in equine communities.


Registration is now open for the 15th annual ISES conference. Don’t miss the early bird deadline of June 1 for conference registration. For all the details and links to registration and accommodations, visit the Equitation Science website or the Horse Portal.


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