Equitation Science

This course is designed to provide an in depth knowledge of equine learning behaviour and an understanding of the effects of human/rider on the training and welfare of horses, allowing students to pursue careers in research, industry or academia.


Horse and tack

20 credits.

Course leader

Gemma Pearson

Short description of course

Equitation science promotes an objective, evidence-based understanding of the welfare of horses during handling, training and competition, to improve the horse-rider/handler interaction by explaining horse training from an ethological and learning theory perspective. The objective is to encourage the use of scientifically validated training methods to identify training techniques, approaches and equipment which are ethical, sustainable and effective and highlight those which represent problems for equine welfare. Equitation science therefore involves the development of an understanding of the application of psychological principles such as learning theory, motivation and cognition as well as equine ethology, welfare assessment, biomechanics and rider psychology.

This course is designed to further develop the student’s scientific skills, knowledge and ability to utilise an evidence-based approach when dealing with horses.

Two aspects of the emerging discipline of Equitation Science are crucial to the improvement of equine welfare. Firstly, the underpinning of both horse and human/rider training with learning theory and, secondly, the use of technology to provide objective data for traditionally subjective measures (eg. saddle pressures, rein tension/contact, stride length, weight distribution). There is a clear need for tertiary level Equitation Science education in order to produce graduates capable of promoting sound ethical practice and scientific rigour within the equine sector. Equitation Science is applicable to all horses and horse riders/handlers from the professional elite riders and trainers through to the amateur and leisure horse owner. In fact anyone who cares about and is interested in the behaviour and welfare of horses will benefit from gaining an understanding of how to decide upon the most ethical training methods to use based on scientific evidence, be that in hand or under saddle.

Learning outcomes

For details about the course, including the learning outcomes, you can visit the  Degree Regulations & Programmes of Study page.


The Equitation Science course was nominated this year for the Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) Teaching Award in the 'Best Course' category. The following is what one of our student's had to say about this course:

This unique course is part of the MSc in Equine Science and clearly has had a profound impact on the way I think about and assess equine science and especially equestrianism. For the first time in my life, I feel I have understood the mechanisms behind horse-human interaction and what can be done to practically improve animal welfare. This course has enabled me to logically assess many problems of contemporary equestrianism and literally opened my eyes. This certainly would not have been possible without the extraordinary support of Prof. Waran who is outstandingly committed to inspire critical thinking in her students and to deliver the most intellectually stimulating lectures in this relatively new discipline. I profoundly believe that animal welfare could be massively improved if this course was offered at more universities.