Old masters were right: Academic riding principles abide modern learning theory

Most riding masters from the 18th and early 19th century who left a written heritage had understood intuitively the laws of classical and operant conditioning as determined scientifically in the 20th century. Key principles of academic riding, often ignored by modern coercive dressage, can be “translated” and explained in scientific terms. Abiding by these principles should improve welfare. Independence of aids: The rider should have maximal control of the stimuli (= aids) given. When giving a particular stimulus, it should not be accompanied by others, at least in the beginning of schooling. Better balance means more independent hand, leg and seat aids. This principle originates from two phenomena: discrimination of stimuli and overshadowing. Discretion of aids: Reacting to stimuli as weak as possible contributes to lightness. Two mechanisms are used to reach that goal: generalization and second order conditioning. “Descente de mains”, “descente de jambes”: Stop aids when the horse is in the required attitude or pace. This requires sufficient sensitivity to detect light changes. Not applying this principle results in habituation and killing of impulsion, confusion (uncertainty concerning the adequate response) and impossibility to use negative reward. Legs without hands, hands without legs: Experimental neuroses can be elicited through contradictory signals or motivations. Riders often do so. Legs usually mean “forward, speed up”, rein pressure “stop, slow down”. Simultaneous presentation represents conflicting signals. Using drawing reins as a routine go against this principle.