In conclusion: Quo vadis, equestrian science?
Henry Herbert, the tenth Earl of Pembroke, was a Lieutenant General in the British Army and in his lifetime considered an authority on schooling and training cavalry horses. His book, Military Equitation: Or A Method of Breaking Horses, and Teaching Soldiers to Ride, published in 1761 with a fourth edition produced by 1793, quickly became the standard work throughout the British cavalry. In many ways, the content and sentiment of Pembroke’s ideas as expressed so succinctly in the above quote are far from surprising, considering their periodic and societal context. Pembroke’s work and life during the eighteenth century were in all likelihood heavily influenced by the Age of Enlightenment, during which time society was reformed using reason and knowledge advanced through scientific means of investigation. Nevertheless, many of the principles underpinning equestrian sports today are based heavily on tradition and conjecture, rather than systematic observation and measurement, followed by the formulation and experimental testing of hypotheses. Scientists aim for results to speak for themselves, trying not to let their own values and opinions influence their interpretations. Yet equestrian sports, and even the mere interaction with horses, is to this day prone to being considered as much a form of art as it is a scientific discipline. Many of the characteristics used to describe horses are not easily quantifiable. Concepts such ‘presence’, ‘spirit’, and of course ‘beauty’ inevitably lie in the eye of the beholder, meaning that personal experiences, opinions and emotions almost certainly will influence what people believe to be the correct way to manage and train their horses. Yet while people’s right to their own opinions should not – and cannot – be called into question, there does seem to be more at stake here. Seeing that equestrian sports are based on the interaction with another sentient being, i.e. the horse, riders and horse owners are responsible for making sure they do everything in their power to ensure the welfare of the horses in their care. An important element must necessarily involve the scientific, that is the systematic and objective, investigation of the different elements that influence
horse-rider performance. The rider or human handler obviously and inevitably plays an important part in determining the quality of any horse-rider interaction. Subsequently, scientific investigations must extend to what humans do, think and feel and how they act when engaged with horses. It should have become clear throughout this book that, while the first steps
have finally been taken to integrate scientific principles of investigation into equestrian sports, much work remains to be done. There still exist a myriad of areas that require thorough investigation by ambitious, innovative, yet also practically orientated equestrian scientists in the coming years. By tackling the many remaining questions within and surrounding equitation science in a holistic and innovative manner, empirical findings are likely to help ensure the safety as well as performance of horse-rider dyads. In fact, there can be no doubt that only an innovative, novel approach that is also solid in its scientific application can help push equitation science into the twenty-first century. In these last few pages, a number of rider-related topics are highlighted that may be of interest for future scientific investigation. It should be noted, however, that these ideas and suggestions are by no means exhaustive or exclusive. Primarily, they serve to stimulate the minds of future researchers to go out and examine the possibilities of equestrian sports with an open mind and a fresh eye.