An everyday understanding and application of equitation science has given rise to a new and emerging Australian consumer; one that is informed, engaged and actively seeking to do the best for their horse in all of their purchasing decisions.
Australia has a unique history with the horse. Horses have been integral in exploring, cultivating, protecting and modernising this country. They have been ubiquitous in all of Australian life. Originally, the approach towards the horse’s use and care was primarily one of utility and function. The horse-human bond, while it certainly existed, was a bond that prioritised survival in a new and harsh environment. Today, the horse’s place has shifted.
For many, horses are a means of business and pleasure. The relationship between horses and people is often one based upon enjoyment. As basic comforts and everyday luxuries have improved over the past two centuries, horse owners are looking to share this same level of care with their horses. However, a lack of knowledge and widespread misinformation around horses and horse training has, historically, seen the rise of practices that compromise horse welfare.
Today, horse owners are increasingly looking for solutions that are sustainable and evidence-based; that go beyond quick fixes.
A rapidly growing stream of science, equitation science, which has its roots in Australia, promises the answers. A new consumer market is emerging in its wake – one that is ever more aware of the darker sides of the horse industry and becoming more interested in finding better approaches. This new consumer market not only promises a renewed interest in horse welfare, but also new opportunities for businesses that prioritise horse welfare in their products and services.
One of the first to develop equitation science, Prof Paul McGreevy, says, “The general horse owning population is becoming more aware the equine industry is increasingly subject to public scrutiny. So, people are aware of the wastage in the racing industry, people are aware of the difficulty in justifying the whipping of tired horses in the name of sport, people are beginning to question how acceptable it is to force horses to do particular manoeuvres using discomfort. I think it’s definitely growing. The general horse owning population is picking up on the growing interest in horse welfare issues.”
At its core, “Equitation science provides a refreshingly clear and horse-centred approach to understanding how horses interact with humans on the ground and in the saddle,” he says. “It simply de-mystifies what works and what doesn’t. It’s not inventing new things. It acknowledges ethology – the natural behaviour of the horse as a social herbivore – and applies that behaviour as it manifests in human settings. Essentially, science is the antidote to belief systems.”
Editor-in-Chief of Horses and People Magazine, Cristina Wilkins, supports Prof McGreevy in saying, “A questioning approach to horses and horse training has never really been encouraged. Many horse riding traditions come from mostly military backgrounds where there is accepted hierarchy – your instructor is supposed to know more – so, a questioning approach hasn’t [traditionally] been fostered and encouraged. The best thing we can do, as horse owners, is ask ourselves if our practices really are the best for our horses and educate ourselves to find out.”
Since 2009, Horses and People Magazine has actively supported equitation science in its mission as an educational publication. “After attending the International Society for Equitation Science conference in 2009 in Sydney, Australia, that’s when we established the purpose and vision of the magazine,” Cristina says. “That is, to promote a more sustainable and evidence-based approach to everything we do with horses as a means to improve the horse’s welfare.”
“We look at bridging the gap between the laboratory and the arena. Readers have commented the magazine is a compliment to people’s intelligence. It’s not patronising, but rather, we look at finding the practical applications of research and explaining those applications to a wider audience in terms they can understand.” What began as an almost pig-headed approach to following this mission from the beginning, she explains, has seen steady growth in both readers and advertisers.
Many other media outlets in Australia and New Zealand are interested in publicising equitation science research which, she believes, is representative of a gathering momentum; a developing interest in a more horse-centred approach. Indeed, the continued growth of equitation science, both in Australia and abroad, has even caught the attention of the National Museum of Australia, which is profiling equitation science in its current exhibition on Australia’s horse history and culture – a unique and world-first addition to an equine exhibition.
Curator Kirsten Wehner says, “Equitation science really captures one of the contemporary evolutions of the relationship between horses and people in Australia. For the everyday horse owner, equitation science can be understood from a perspective of self-development. People are looking for ways to interact with their horses in a way that prioritises enjoyment, not conflict or coercion.” Equitation science seeks to develop a mode of training that is based on understanding and sympathy.
She agrees, as a horse owner herself, the overall interest in horse welfare is growing. “There are a plethora of ideas on how you should solve your problem with your horse. Equitation science holds great promise in helping horse owners understand which direction to take by providing clear principles that are memorable, understandable and repeatable.”
Prof McGreevy urges horse owners to consider their horse’s needs in all of their decision-making. “I think everyday horse owners should challenge themselves to think about every practice from the horse’s perspective. I hope we all become thinking horse people and challenge ourselves to consider every intervention, every technique, every item of apparatus from the horse’s perspective.”
Moreover, he also proposes businesses consider the implications, and indeed opportunities, for them in this emerging, conscious market. “For businesses that are embracing this new market, the absolute imperative is to use an evidence-based approach because consumers are becoming increasingly more discerning and demanding to see the evidence, and what it is that underpins any marketing or sponsorship deals.”
Cristina Wilkins advises alternative approaches to horse welfare simply can’t be sustained from an economic standpoint. “We cannot continue to have a bad image of horse sports. Horse sports are constantly under threat of being taken out of the Olympics, racing audiences are dwindling and these changes are affecting the back pocket of the big industries.”
Looking to the future, she says, “It’s like a snowball and the snowball is turning. It has had a few bumps along the way, and it will progress slower and then faster, but it’s inevitable now. It will just continue.”
Looking for some outside support? Don’t wait for success, create it — with the experts in equine marketing, Archer Creative. To learn more about how we can help you exceed your growth goals, call us on 1300 077 126 or visit www.archercreative.net.au.