Research Proposal

Ally Schultz
Intern/Mentor GT

Research Title:
In The Eye of the Beholder: The Importance of Human-Animal Bonding and Proper
Reinforcements to Promote Positive Outcomes in Horse Training

Overview of Research:
The area of study for this project is horse training and bonding and how that
affects the outcome of any situation. Specifically, natural based horsemanship and herd
dynamics, positive and negative reinforcements, and human-animal bonding will be
researched to better understand what factors and what amount of that factor affects the
training outcomes of a horse.
There are many differing opinions between horsemen when it comes to training. A
lot of the times, there are missing pieces of the horses training, such as a bond/trust with
the trainer and affective communication, which can slow or completely stop the progress
made in the horses training. From this, many horses will be sent to slaughter or be
rescued due to neglect for reason of uneducated trainers. Many of these horses have much
potential but because of the improper training, they do not learn. With proper techniques,
the horse can become a good athlete and in the end, be saved from an unnecessary death.
More knowledge in this field will be acquired through secondary sources. Data
collection from primary sources will include broad surveys completed by all kinds of
horsemen (age, gender, years of experience, etc) to attain an understanding of what the
“average” horseman knows as well as surveys and interviews to specific, well-known
trainers in my area.

Background and History of the Issue:
Abuse in the form of training horses is evident at almost any barn one might visit.
This could include jabbing of the horses’ mouth with a severe bit or whipping the horse
for reasons the horse does not understand. From this, the horse may not perform at its
highest ability. From the time horses were first domesticated and used for work and
recreational purposes, some people had opposing opinions on how breaking and training
horses should be done. Recently, a natural based approach has become very popular
among horse owners due to their want for a connection and healthy bond with their

equine companion. There have been numerous experiments and research on the impact of
human-horse bonds as well as horse behavior when it comes to bonding. There have been
few researchers who have taken the extra step to connect how horses naturally
communicate with other horses and how a person can mimic this to create a positive
environment. There has been close to no research on the two put together; how with a
human-animal bond present already and the use of natural based horsemanship can affect
the horses’ performance. Through research done already, it has been found that many
agree that when a horse and human trust one another and proper reinforcements at proper
times, such as ignoring when the response is wrong and rewarding when right, increases
the horses ability to succeed in the end.
Natural based horsemanship is not natural horsemanship, also seen as a “cult”
where the people who practice this still abuse their horses. Natural based horsemanship is
when the person handling the horse understands the way horses think and communicate.
They understand herd dynamics and how to become the leader in the relationship. Also,
the person has knowledge of proper reinforcements.

Problem Statement and Rational:
The way horses are trained and how that horse looks forward to the work it is
being told to do is important to me because I have seen a multitude of abuse cases and
unhappy horses. I have also experienced this myself with my own horse and the barn,
Sunset Hill Eventing, where I am currently located. When horses feel like they are being
pressured to do something, they may not do it as well as they are able to. With the
introduction of a natural based horsemanship and bonding into the horse and owners
relationship, they will be able to reach goals that would be harder for them to do without
both factors. There is not enough research being done that brings the two factors together
to actually show the positive impact as a whole from it.

Research Methodology:

Research Question and Hypothesis: The research question is: What is
the impact of human-animal bonding and the elimination of unwanted
force on a horses overall training achievements? The hypothesis is: With
the use of a proper reinforcements, a bond, and “natural” based
horsemanship, a horse will be more willing to perform specific tasks asked
by the person.
Basis of Hypothesis: I focused my hypothesis on a specific type of
handler and training method because there is a lot of research done about
either factor but rarely both. Also, I have been hearing controversy about
both factors since I began riding and training horses. With the controversy,
I’d like to dig deeper into both sides people take. I am interested in
viewing statistics and research done on a controlled setting of horses with
both factors present. So far, the research I have done has supported the

ideas of both the training methods and type of handler greatly. I have not
yet found a source with negative thoughts about either factor.
Research Design: I would like to conduct questionnaires, surveys, and
interviews. I will mainly use qualitative and descriptive research. I will
interview many horse trainers, survey horse owners and riders, and
observe training methods and the outcome of those. I will also use
statistics from other experiments that focus on only one or both factors and
combine. I would also like to do a quasi-experimental with Days End
Farm Horse Rescue horses. I would create tasks two different horses, one
with factors my hypothesis mentions and one without, would have to
Operational Definitions: Natural Based Horsemanship: refers to a
training method in which the horses natural way of communication, such
as with body language, is the main focus of training. This includes more
positive reinforcement but limiting negative reinforcement to when only
necessary. The horse and handler are “equals” but the handler is still
leader. Specific Tasks: Examples could be to touch an object on cue, be
ridden and saddled calmly, and answer to body language or vocal cues.

Product Overview:

Logistical Considerations: