The use of the investigative behavior to improve the training of the jumping horse

Research presented at the International Society of Equitation Science in Holland 2011

Allowing the horse time to investigate a new fence until determination of its neutrality seems to be a successful approach to solve the problem of refusals in show jumping horses. Age is an important factor in the success rate of investigative behavior’s ability to override the fight or flight response. Rider ability to assess the horse’s response to a new fence is also essential in this approach. 


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The Common Practice

Equine training is primarily negative reinforcement based. It is common practice among show jumping riders to perceive the horse's alert reaction to a new fence as a challenge to their aids. As a result, riders intensify the use of the aids, which become stressors leading the horse to exhibit fight or flight (FF) behaviors that culminates in a refusal to the jump.




The Hypothesis

Our hypothesis is that Horses allowed to perform investigative behavior toward a new fence using all their senses and without a time limit, will learn to generalize new jumps. Consequently the time spent to investigate new fences will not compromise the jump of them.







The research

 A nonparametric research was used since it is not ethical to purposely overpressure a control group. 50 horses ages 3-15 were evaluated, two age groups were considered: >8 years and ≤ 8 years. 43 horses were observed exhibiting behaviors switching from alert to FF responses to a fence prior to entry into the study. 7 horses were started from the beginning allowing the IB as their form of training. A training protocol was established to be used; at the first sign of alert behavior towards a new fence, the horses were not over pressured with the aids in the attempt to maintain forward motion and jump the fence. The horses were allowed to slow down and eventually stop and start the IB sequence without time constraints. Aids were maintained but not intensified.  The (IB) sequence observed was as follows: alert behavior (head raised, eyes and ears fixed, reduced/complete stop of motion). The neck telescoping gesture was used to bring the nose towards the object. The olfactory investigation resumed the forward movement toward the foreign object for further exploration. The tactile sense was then used to further investigate the new fence with the lips. Some horses then proceeded to mouth the object. At the end of the IB sequence the jump was reattempted. The behavioral evaluation (BE) performed throughout a 6 months period of training was jumping a course in a competition situation. To prove the hypothesis, the horses needed to start performing show jumping courses with no refusals. Data were analyzed using SPSS software. In the ≤ 8 years of age group, one horse did not perform. 24 horses age ≤ 8 learned to speed up the IB within the reasonable time required to approach a fence, eliminating the incidents of refusals. 1 horse performed in 1 month, 7 horses in 2-3 months, 12 horses in 4-5 months, 3 horses in 6 months. A nonparametric statistic chi-square test confirmed p8, had controversial results chi-square test shows p>.05; 15 horses reduced the number of refusals but failed the BE. 5 showed no significant change. 5 horses passed the BE.  In this group the variation in number of refusals seems to be associated with the rider’s ability to allow the neck telescoping gesture of the IB sequence toward the fence. Further research is needed to prove this hypothesis.




Demonstration of the jumping technique allowing the investigative behavior with and without a bridle