On the 29 and 30 October 2016 I attended my first equitation science clinic held by Lisa Ashton of EquiSci, at the Grand Prix Riding Club in Campagnano (Rome) of professional rider and instructor Stefano Coata. I had read Andrew McLean’s very inspiring book The Truth About Horses and was looking forward to meeting Lisa and watch Stefano and his team at work so that I could learn more about the subject.

My passion and love for horses goes way back into my childhood and I have been riding since my early teens. Throughout the years I’ve witnessed the behaviour of horses not performing according to standards being unfairly dismissed with unflattering and superficial explanations. What has always shocked me though was how, for the most part, problems were being handled: it was either a clueless brutality liable to endanger both horse and rider/handler/trainer or horses being objectified and replaced by others, hopefully destined to function better.

I wish I had crossed paths with more people wondering why horses behaved as they did.

Then came my encounter with equitation science, which doesn’t simply pose the why question but it also constantly searches in an objective, evidence-based way for the hows so as to gain a scientific understanding of the welfare of horses and the education of riders.

Despite being a simple auditor, the clinic turned out to be a true eye-opening experience. I was able to witness firsthand the beautiful complexity and vitality of the equitation science approach, how it is always evolving and interacting with other disciplines studying animal psychology.

It was a true feast for the eyes and the heart to see the cognitive responsiveness of the horses, even more so to watch teachings put into practice with various exercises like grids and jumping courses. When I arrived I had tons of questions. I’m happy to say that I found a good number of answers simply by watching the work that was taking place in the arena.

I was also deeply impressed by the relationship between coach Lisa and the students. When it comes to teaching a two-way dialogue is of the utmost importance. It enables the teacher to verify whether notions have been assimilated and develops growth and feel on both sides. The group of riders had people from all levels but the coach-student interaction went well beyond their equestrian abilities. Great importance was given to how riders as people processed and metabolised information and to receiving constant feedback from them, be it on the reaching of their goals or the coach’s work.

Group dynamics were equally impressive. No cracking of whips or croaking of egos but a jovial and relaxed environment with people supporting each other. The level of commitment that I’ve encountered was so deep it jumped the arena fence and landed right in the middle of the auditors’ bench!

I believe that what I’ve seen at work during this inspiring weekend could well be described as a learning community working at its best and it is something everyone should aspire to.

Valentina Mezzacappa

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