Looking Back at ISES Opening Speeches

Lorraine Stubbs addresses equine industry concerns

I’m happy to see so many people decided to make the trip to my city and to my University of Guelph.  I’m proud to have received an Honorary Doctorate degree from this institution, in recognition of my equestrian career.

Please allow me to present my background.  I started my journey as a horse-crazy kid from the City of Toronto, 55 years ago…  It was a passion that would become more than just a career for me:  It has been the calling of my life.  I’ve served in a great many roles in the equine industry.

From a Dr_Lorraine_Stubbs_ISES_2019beginner rider, at age 12, starting as a member of a pony club in North Toronto, within 10 years, I competing in Dressage at an international level —  three Pan American Games (plus 1 judging and 1 coaching, two World Championships and two Olympic Games.  At the Pan-Am Games, I was a gold medalist in ’71 and a double-gold medalist in ’91 and a silver medalist in ’75.  In Montreal ’76, I became the second Canadian to rank in the top ten at the Olympics.  During my riding career, I became a four-star Dressage and Para-Dressage judge and the first level-three coach in Canada.

1976 was a pivotal year for me. I went to school and finished my master’s degree, participated in the Montreal Olympics, and I bought a farm 10 minutes from this city.  I wanted to breed, raise and train Dressage horses from paddock to podium.  But no one in my family knew anything about it!

So, I began learning at the University of Guelph, with courses in genetics and basic agriculture.  I sold my farm 3 years ago and moved to Guelph.  I liked being a farmer…. raising and nurturing animals and raising the crops to feed them.  I bred and foaled my own horses too.  And when one of my home-bred Thoroughbreds, Bravest Shot, became a track, course, and stake record-holder in the 1990’s,  I was hooked on racing as well!  I stayed in that business for well over 20 years.  I say all this so that you might permit me to offer some thoughts about the state of the horse industry and the horse-human relationship in Canada.

I have two issues that I hope you recognize need addressing in this country.

Number one:  We must be better prepared and knowledgeable regarding horse welfare generally…and in emergency and rescue situations in particular.

And number two:  Equine training practices must be based upon scientific evidence.

At horse shows around the world, I have witnessed three fires, two tornados, two floods, and four lightning strikes. Sadly, there was loss of life: both horse and human. The chaos and stress of those events will remain in my memory forever. But I also know of instances where horses were saved at competitions.

One stumbled into a water dike…
Another fell in a rock formation and landed on its back…
A third ran away, fully-tacked, into a 100-acre wood.

They were saved by first responders who knew or had taken emergency large animal rescue training.  Why don’t we have trained first responders at all major horse venues and events?  Why aren’t insurance companies, national or provincial equine organizations, horse clubs, horse owners and stables demanding large animal rescue training, fire and emergency preparedness?

Imagine if you were handed a stallion and told in a foreign language to move him out of harm’s way.  What would you do? Those who took Equine Guelph’s Large Animal Rescue Training this morning might have some ideas. Thank you, Rebecca, Gayle and the team!

It is my hope that you all seek this training yourself or advocate for credentialed first responders in your horse events and operations.  Presently, industry attention to best practices in horse welfare is low in this country. Some owners still view their horses like property and will be unwilling to change their behaviour.  Meanwhile, public concern for horse welfare is at an all-time high.

This disconnect between some industry attitudes and public sympathies is causing lawmakers to re-examine equine sports.  This year, a century of referring animal cruelty cases to a non-governmental organization, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, came to an end. Now, these cases will be referred to the police.

90% of the 20,000 Ontario residents surveyed by Brock University researcher Kendra Coulter agreed with this policy change. While I also applaud this course of action, the police need to be trained to do this work too.

Here, I am speaking about Ontario, but animal welfare laws differ across the country.  And the rules regarding horse welfare differ among equine sport disciplines as well.  It’s little wonder that the public is confused.  There is a dire need for rigorous, consistent standards.  The horrific news from the most reckless sports has hurt us all.

The second of my personal causes to present to you is this:

We need to develop and adopt training techniques that are backed by scientific research.  Good policy decisions are evidence-based.  Only rigorous, good-quality science will convince stakeholders that the psychological and behavioural approaches to training that ISES endorses, work.  This is how ISES can lead in the adoption of these welfare-sensitive techniques.  And this is the path to legislation that protects the animals and safeguards our sport. We need to strengthen and enhance that connection.

Jody will speak next about her success with ISES-recognized training methods.  Let’s continue to put these methods to the test.  And let’s start by testing a regimen of training for the largest group:  Recreational amateurs ― statistically, middle-aged women.  Then, when appropriate training fundamentals are in place, we should investigate the training nuances necessary for the much smaller sample of international competitors.

When I was training in the 60s, 70s and 80s, my coaches were European:  Willi Schultheis, Reiner Klimke, George Theodorescu, Jo Hinnemann, to name a few.  Their knowledge was not science-based, and certainly not welfare science-based.  But times have changed.  Horse welfare is the new guiding principle for training in equine sports.

When you have good published science to prove your methods are the best, as well as the most humane, it will appeal to the organizations that run national and international equestrian sports competitions — and to their sponsors.

They may be slow to adopt new rules, but in my lifetime, I’ve seen many good ones approved.  I was attracted to ISES and to this conference because like you, I hold the welfare of the horse in my heart.  I want to see your organization grow in respect and relevance, especially in this country. Lead and succeed in fostering a more humane approach to horse management and event safety.

I believe the way to a future that includes horse sport is through high-quality welfare and training research and emergency preparedness.

And I hope this conference will inspire you to help make that future a reality.
Again, welcome to ISES 2019.


Well, you’ve already heard from two speakers: one past and one future Olympian!
Jody’s personal message has made clear the wonderful potential of ISES techniques.
We look forward to seeing these methods confirmed in the scientific literature.
It is clear there is a need for ISES leadership in Canada.

It is your energy, advocacy, and support for research that will carry your mission forward and ensure that there remains a place for horses in Canadian society.

Jody Hartstone explains how equitation science improves training and speaks on changes she would like to see

I am Jody Hartstone, an Equitation Science Practitioner and Grand Prix Dressage rider and trainer from New Zealand.

I stumbled across ES about 12 years ago via a very talented, but opinionated stallion called Landioso.  I purchased this GP horse from a friend in Holland – he was cheap in terms of GP horses, and I thought she was just selling him at “Mates Rates” because I was her friend.  It turned out however he was cheap due to his traits of kicking out, running backward and generally not doing what was asked of him.  Through a series of coincidences, I met Dr. Andrew McLean who introduced me to ES and more particularly the use of Learning Theory as it applies to ridden horses, and my life as a rider and trainer was propelled exponentially forward.

The use of Learning Theory not only turned Landioso around at age 19, back into a Champion dressage horse, but it gave me the knowledge to make a career helping riders from grassroots to Grand Prix all over the world.

I literally live and breathe ES.  It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.  I love it because it is such an ethical approach to training and keeping horses.  I love it because a scientific approach is super clear and easy to follow, and I love it because as a competition rider it helps me train horses in a super-efficient way and enables me to win more prizes – the goal of so many of us competition riders!

ES has taken me from Jockey Clubs in Asia, thru North America, Europe, and the UK.  The horse-riding cultures in these countries are all very different, but the problems we see are all the same.  Horses refusing to load on trailers/whip shy/needle shy/tension/shying/bucking – the list goes on.  This has proven to me that no matter what country, no matter what system, horses in all corners of the earth learn the same way and people everywhere are struggling to get this horse training thing right.

Why is Equitation Science important to the competition rider/trainer?  Because science equals knowledge and knowledge equals power.

The wastage rates amongst competition horses are reported to be very high.  Why is it that one horse will make it through to top-level whilst many others struggle?

This is one area where ES can shed some light.  By training using science-based approaches we can encapsulate those horses that seem to be the outliers – those who people say “Cannot cope with pressure” or “turn sour” or are labeled as lazy, psycho or just plain bad.  I am super excited to see that Shawna and her team from Terra Nova are giving a demo on positive reinforcement training – this is a field that has hardly been tapped into in the sport horse training world and it has so much to offer.  Shawna has had phenomenal success with some of the world’s top horses and I look forward to her demo.

I remember being given a horse to retrain said to be impossible to clip or inject.  Experienced horse people were bemused at the fact I was going to retrain this horse – the horse they said would rather kill you than have a needle in its neck. I was asked by intrigued rider “How will you do it?” Will you Twitch her?  Tie Up her leg? Give her a calming paste?  To all of which my answer was no.  They were intrigued when I said I would simply train her to accept needles and clippers and it would probably only take me one training session.  My theory is:  If a zoo-keeper can train a lion to present its paw through the cage to have its nails clipped, surely we can train a horse to accept a needle or a set of clippers.

And that’s the crux of the matter – we are training animals – not simply riding horses.  All the rules of good animal training should apply – and yet sadly for many horses they do not.

ISES has set out a set of 10 Principles that should be adhered to in any horse training program.

These include the regard for safety of both horse and human, the correct use of learning theory and having regard for a horse’s current emotional state amongst others.

Science and technology have helped change the way we live and think and are constantly changing the world we live in.  We now live in a world with pressure plates, thermographic cameras, accelerometers, ways to measure stress, rein tension gauges… The list seems endless! However, I think it is fair to say that horses have not evolved very much over the last one hundred years or so.  They are the same horses they always were, with some bred more highly for sport.

Unfortunately, many horse trainers are still stuck in the past, believing that horse riding is simply an art form or “there is no science in riding horses, just good horsemanship”.

An example from my daily work as an ES Practitioner is teaching people that horses do not strike off with the outside hind leg.  They strike off into canter with either their leading leg or the outside diagonal pair.  This has been thoroughly researched by leading scientists such as Dr. Hillary Clayton.  However, many people argue this, not wanting to give up what they first learned – that canter starts with the outside hind leg.  I have had people tell me the science is wrong, and that the “Spanish Riding School Book” says it is the outside hind therefore it is.  It makes no difference to them that the book was written when it was commonly thought the earth was flat.

Why is this relevant?  Because so much of competition horse riding is based on the false premise that everything starts with the hind legs and the most important thing you need to do is control and motivate the hind legs.  Science can debunk all sorts of myths and theories such as this that are rife, in the horse world, many of which have negative welfare consequences for the horse.

Would you rather go to a doctor who was trained in 18th Century medicine or a physician trained in a contemporary university hospital?

As Lorraine has mentioned the changes that have happened in the sport of dressage over the past 20 years or so, but really there is so much more that can be done to not only improve horse welfare but also to improve our chances of success in the competition arena.

Three topics I believe need more research that have papers being presented here at this conference are:

1)  The use of overly tightened nosebands in competition and training – we are lucky enough to have Orla Doherty here from Ireland who has done some fantastic research on this topic so far.  Orla is presenting a paper on “Changes in pressures exerted on sub-noseband tissues by tightening the noseband”

2) I would like to see a change in the way whips are used with competition horses – there is still a huge level of whip use as a form of punishment, especially in the jumping disciplines.  There are several papers being presented here this week looking at the quantitate data surrounding whip and spur use in competition horses.

3)   Another common thing we see with competition horses is the use of a very poor reward system in the attempt to reinforce behaviours. I have seen a double Olympic gold medallist chastising riders for rubbing their horse on the neck, saying don’t stroke him – pat him like you love him.  Rewards tend to be very delayed and not always something the horse will find desirable nor rewarding.

It seems that even winning Olympic medals may not make you the most equine-centric horse trainer out there.

I am excited to hear the presentations at the conference on rider position and rider biomechanics – this is a vital area where science can help trainers to help riders to perform better.  Science helps us measure the differences in the asymmetry of rider and help us to understand what is really going on when we are riding a horse.

Another subject that is really valid for competition horses is on comparing different products on the market today.  It seems that nearly every day now there is a new supplement/bit/bridle/saddle or gadget available that we are told is more effective/more humane/more comfortable or will make your horse jump higher or move better.  Most riders simply believe the manufacturer’s claims, which are not always substantiated with unbiased scientific research.  I look forward to the findings of the study being presented here tomorrow that compares the Micklem with conventional bridles fitted with restrictive nosebands.

I would like to finish by thanking the researchers that are presenting here this week for your tireless efforts in your studies.  Your hard work and effort can really help coaches, trainers and competition riders such as myself be the best we can be – for the good of the horse, and of course for those ever-elusive rosettes and ribbons.

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