Researcher Marc Pierard is working on a project to create a descriptive catalog of horse behavior, according to Horsetalk.

“We all should watch and observe our horses,” says Pierard. “There is great power in the practice of observation and in what we can learn from this simple act.”

It might sound fairly easy, but Pierard and his fellow researchers face major challenges in developing a catalog for use in equitation science.

For instance, a veterinarian, a judge and a farrier might give such differing answers when asked to describe a particular horse that one might assume none of them are describing the same horse.

This can be quite problematic when discussing behavior at a scientific level or comparing one behavior study with another.

Pierard, with his colleagues Professors Paul McGreevy and Rony Geers, are going back to the basics and re-starting the discussion around the development of such a catalog, known in the scientific community as an ethogram.

The ultimate goal of a species ethogram is to compile a complete list of clearly defined and named behaviors and, eventually, what they mean.

The use of such an ethogram would increase the validity, repeatability and comparability of equitation science behavior studies allowing for more efficient statistical analysis. While it may sound like very basic research, the work is only now getting started.

For this project, researchers conducted a feasibility study using a panel of 13 equitation science researchers and 10 high level practitioners.

The panelists received basic training on the application of a reference ethogram and were asked to score a collection of short video clips demonstrating a range of behaviors.

Academics and practitioners were in close agreement about the results, proving a high degree of accuracy and reliability.

Pierard believes agreement on the description is the first step in the process.

“We should not ignore the importance of description-based research,” he says. “We should avoid what Konrad Lorenz called ‘the fashionable fallacy of dispensing with description.’

“Once the description and definition is commonly agreed upon we can move on to the business of explaining causes and functions, but first we need to get back to basics and build a solid foundation.”