Using training aids on horses can be a controversial topic among equestrians. Some people believe that they are useful tools to improve the horse's performance and comfort, while others think that they are of no benefit. Whatever side of the fence you are on when it comes to using training aids and the use of certain exercises, there is now a growing amount of scientific evidence that gives a valuable insight into how they can affect the horse.
To look at this topic in greater detail, Dr Russell Mackechnie Guire, a leading expert in equine biomechanics and founder of Centaur Biomechanics will present at the Horses Inside Out Conference, The Science behind Training Aids, Polework and other Conditioning Exercises. This evidence-based overview will focus on the biomechanical effects that the use of training aids and polework has on equine movement. Russell will also discuss the importance of observing the individual horse before using certain exercises or a particular training aid. He will also discuss how research can help us improve training methods for horse and rider.
“I am supportive of polework and the use of training aids. They are valuable tools for improving the performance, balance and fitness of the horse. However, they should be used with caution and knowledge, based on scientific evidence and individual assessment of the horse.” Russell Mackechnie Guire
Russell goes on to explain one of the most basic fundamentals that can often be lacking is the ability to lunge a horse correctly. Unless the handler can do this well, the likelihood of using a training aid having any benefits to the horse is low.
As an owner or trainer before using any training aid or polework exercises there should be a thorough understanding of how it works and the mechanical affect it has on the horse. All too often a training aid is recommended but without any advice and guidance on how to fit it and use it effectively.
Using exercises or training aids should be done according to each horse's individual level of training, and with consideration of any pre-existing conditions that may impact on the horse’s health and well-being. With a more thorough understanding of how using training aids and polework exercises impact on the horse will help you to make a more informed choice of whether they are suitable or not.
Dr Russell Mackechnie Guire will be giving another talk at the Horses Inside Out Conference on Understanding Laterality – Improving our training by Understanding the Science.
Have you ever wondered why some horses are more comfortable on one rein than the other? Or why some riders struggle to keep their balance and symmetry in the saddle? The answer may lie in the concept of laterality, which is the tendency to prefer one side of the body over the other. During his presentation, Russell will explain what laterality is, how it affects both horses and riders, and how we can use scientific methods to measure and improve it.
Russell is part of The International Task Force on Laterality in Sport Horses. This is an international group of veterinarians, researchers and equestrians who are studying movement asymmetries in horses and the potential problems of the horse-rider interaction. Their quest is to gain a greater understanding of the impact of laterality in horse and rider.
Laterality is a term that describes the asymmetry of the brain and the body. Most of us are more dexterous with one hand than the other and we will show a preference for using that one hand over the other for certain tasks. However, laterality is not limited to the hands; it can also affect the eyes and other parts of the body. For example, most people have a dominant eye that they use for aiming or focusing, and a dominant ear that they use for listening or processing speech.
Laterality is not only a human trait; it is also found in many animal species, including horses. They will have a dominant foreleg that they use for leading or turning, or a dominant hindleg that they use for pushing.
Why does laterality matter when it comes to riding and training horses? Does it have an effect on the performance, health, and welfare of both horses and riders. A horse that is lateral may have difficulty bending or flexing on one rein or may show resistance or stiffness when asked to perform certain movements. A rider that is lateral may have trouble keeping their seat and alignment in the saddle, or unconsciously apply stronger aids on one side than the other. These imbalances can lead to poor communication and increased risk of injury.
Russell will provide some insight into this complex subject and discuss whether laterality is something horse owners and trainers need to worry about, or should we simply focus our training on making the horse as symmetrical as possible.
If you'd like to learn more about these two topics and a whole lot more, you need to join us at the Horses Inside Out Conference. This is a must attend event for anyone who works with horses. There is a packed timetable of presentations from world leading equine experts over the two days. Join us in person at Loughborough University or from home via our live streaming option - the choice is yours.