Does equestrian knowledge and experience influence selection and training practices for showjumping horses?

St George, Lindsay Blair orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5531-1207, Hobbs, Sarah Jane orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-1552-8647, Sinclair, Jonathan Kenneth orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2231-3732, Richards, James orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4004-3115 and Roddam, Hazel orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0637-1801 (2019) Does equestrian knowledge and experience influence selection and training practices for showjumping horses? Comparative Exercise Physiology, 15 (2). pp. 123-135. ISSN 1755-2540

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Selection and training methods for showjumping horses are largely anecdotal, and performance analysis has been proposed as a method for scientifically improving competitive outcomes. To employ performance analysis in showjumping, an understanding of the tacit and explicit knowledge and practices of equestrians is required to identify relevant performance indicators. This study aimed to examine the knowledge and practices of equestrians with varying levels of experience (advanced and novice) for selecting horses, based on evaluation of movement, and training showjumping horses using an original questionnaire. It was hypothesized that differences would be present between advanced and novice responses. The questionnaire was composed of closed-end and follow-up open-end questions and 225 equestrians (66.7% advanced, 33.3% novice) participated. Closed-end responses from advanced and novice groups were analysed separately using Chi-Squared tests and open-end responses were subjected to thematic and content analysis. Closed-end responses showed significant within-group preferences (p<0.0001) for specific movement traits and training methods and between-group response differences <13% revealed that advanced and novice groups displayed similar preferences. Thematic analysis indicated different preferences for movement traits when selecting showjumping horses, as well as differences in the level of tacit knowledge between advanced and novice groups. Advanced equestrians placed greater emphasis on aesthetic forelimb traits than novice equestrians, who emphasised traits that they may be less capable of influencing, such as hindlimb impulsion and position of the horse at take-off. An emphasis on hindlimb movement and flatwork/ non-jumping exercises for showjumping training was observed across both groups. Understanding equestrian tacit knowledge and its application is fundamental for developing research that is relevant to equestrians. Findings from this study may form a basis for research to identify relevant, objective performance indicators for performance analysis in showjumping, with the ultimate goal of improving competitive performance and welfare for equine athletes.

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