Putting the welfare of the horse first is an ongoing goal for Via Nova, which is why we chose to sponsor the 2021 International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) Annual Conference this fall. Believing in the ISES mission, we were also interested in the variety of speakers and scientific knowledge, all offered virtually. Several keywords pricked up our ears, including talks and discussions on positive reinforcement (R+), conditioning, personality, horse-human relationship, and communication. As our own Via Nova Priority to Positive® curriculum evolves, we continue to soak up knowledge from around the globe.

What is ISES?

The International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) mission is to promote and encourage the application of objective research and advanced practice which will ultimately improve the welfare of horses in their associations with humans.

The concept evolved in 2002 at the Havemeyer Foundation Workshop on Horse Behavior and Welfare in Iceland. By 2004, the first workshop solely devoted to Equitation Science was held at the Veterinary School of the University of Edinburgh. Always evolving, ISES strives to have a continuous impact on the horse world. A solid example of this began in 2016 when ISES co-founder Andrew McLean joined Pony Club Australia with a goal to rework the syllabus and manuals. Touted as the biggest change in its 80-year history, in 2019 the 40,000+ members were introduced to the new system, which includes equitation science and equine welfare.

ISES Mission Statement image

ISES Principles and Via Nova Training (PtP®)
From desensitization, conditioning, shaping, and signals/cues to the emotional state of the horse, as well as the safety of both horse and human, the 10 Training Principles that guide ISES and the society’s work resonate with our continued exploration of R+ and the traditional horse world. Creating a positive space for both horse and human to build a relationship is a significant part of our Priority to Positive® principles.

The 2021 Virtual Conference
This year’s conference theme, ‘Advancing equestrian practice to improve equine quality of life,’ is one that should resonate with all who breed, produce, train, and ride horses for pleasure or sport. Ensuring that we know what a good quality of life is for a horse, and that we have the knowledge and tools to be able to assess quality of life, is a central objective for much of the work.

ISES virtual conference 2021

Illustration from ISES/Jaymie Loy

The conference sub-themes – science with impact, tools for change, communication for change, and training for education – offered a combination of expertise from the field, including evidence-based approaches to improve horse performance, rider experience, and safety, as well as a focus on equine welfare. Other aspects explored were the importance of effective communication and the use of effective educational approaches.

Co-founder of ISES, Andrew McLean, presented on leading the change – a new era for Pony Club education. Aside from his work with the Pony Club Australia, McLean works with equestrians who are traditionally trained on the human-horse relationship. He discussed some of the strategies to encourage people to adopt new mindsets and to embrace different practices. McLean explained his exploration of these techniques at both the National Federation level and the individual level in the equestrian education domain. Change is always a challenge, and as McLean noted, to embrace is to believe and “we can only move at the speed of trust.”

The Work Continues
In the next blog posts, we highlight the topics that resonate with our approach and objectives. Although we know that challenges lie ahead, we do see a positive light illuminating the path towards prioritizing positivity and embrace the knowledge of those who help it glow.