British scientists are studying the Join Up technique devised by Monty Roberts.
Mr Roberts claims the training method allows him to work “in partnership” with the horse by using equine body language and herd behaviour.
But the technique has been subject to little academic study.
Experts at Hartpury College, led by post-doctoral research veterinary scientist Dr Veronica Fowler and equine physiology expert Dr David Marlin, aim to establish whether Join Up places mental or physical stresses on the horse.
“The academic world has been quick to judge his techniques, but no one has done a scientific study,” explained Dr Fowler.
“Scientific data will allow people to make educated judgements over Mr Roberts’ method when compared to ‘traditional’ horsemanship.”
The study took place on 5-6 February using a group of 20 young, unbroken horses.
Dr Marlin explained: “People have suggested that Join Up can be stressful, so we looked at the behaviour and heart rate to see whether they are exhibiting fear or anxiety.”
Heart rate monitors were put on the horses during Join Up or while they were lunged, and then the horses were filmed while performing new tasks, to assess whether Join Up improved their willingness.
Footage is now being studied by Dr Mark Kennedy, an animal behavioural specialist.
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (19 February, ’09)