A clinic hosted at Topline Stables in Salmon Arm blended behavioural science with equestrian sports.
The clinic, taught by Dr. Andrew McLean and his wife Manuela, both renowned experts in animal behaviour, focused on improving riders, trainers and veterinarians’ control over the animals they work with and, by extension, their own safety.
“What makes horses unsafe is when you confuse them,” McLean said.
To avoid confusing the horse, McLean recommends the horse handlers he teaches avoid the use of too many different commands and ensure that each command given with the reins or the rider’s legs means only one thing to the horse.
“We’re just turning the mirror back on the rider,” McLean said.
Safety is a major focus of the clinic because of the number of injuries in equestrian sports, particularly jumping, and among veterinarians working with horses.
He said many of the injuries and deaths of both horses and riders in jumping result from the horse not understanding a command to decelerate before the jump.
Along with the safety aspects, McLean says a better understanding of the way horses learn and obey commands can be applied to helping riders and handlers better control their horses in everything from dressage to horse racing.
McLean, who holds a PhD in Equine Cognition and Learning, said his training method is objective and based on the science of how the animal thinks. He said the focus on behaviour bridges the gap between the horse sports and the scientific world.
The McLeans visited Salmon Arm last year to host a similar seminar.
Manuela says the best eventing coaches in B.C. are here in Salmon Arm.
Along with his work with horses, McLean has also been training elephants since 2007.
McLean led the establishment of the non-profit Human Elephant Learning Program (HELP) foundation, which assists with the training of elephants for groups such as the Wildlife Trust of India and the National Elephant Institute of Thailand.
Following McLean’s methods, trainers have been able to ride an elephant independently within a week of starting its training.
Whatever animals are being trained, McLean rejects the use of punishment as part of the training. He described methods used by some horse trainers as “brutal.”
While in B.C., McLean also spoke at the Equestrian Canada conference in Vancouver and will be delivering his Equine Behaviour course on Vancouver Island.