Do you want to improve your riding, relationship and confidence with your horse?

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The River Tiger podcast aims to explore how we can develop and nurture our unique relationship with these wonderful animals.

Join us as we engage in curious unscripted conversations with great practitioners and researchers in the fields learning, skill acquisition and all things equestrian.

Our mission is to bring evidence based research and theory to life in a way that is engaging, fun and practical.

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Can’t jump, won’t jump: Affordances of the horse-rider dyad underpin skill adaptation in Showjumping using a constraints-led approach (Davies et al. 2022).

Photo by Philippe Oursel on Unsplash

Full reference. Davies M, Stone J, Davids K, Williams J, & O’Sullivan M. Can’t jump, won’t jump: Affordances of the horse-rider dyad underpin skill adaptation in Showjumping using a constraints-led approach. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching. (2022).

Corresponding author ORCID 0000-0001-5402-7602

Keywords. Agency, perception-action coupling, equestrian coaching, ecological dynamics.

Article in 3 sentences

1. The article presents an Ecological Dynamics rationale that could be applied to coaching equestrian sports and activities with a focus on the horse-human partnership.

2. An adaptation of the Constraints Model is presented where the ‘organism’ is the horse-rider partnership interacting with influential task and environmental constraints that shape emergent behaviour.

3. The article draws on other areas of research and presents practical examples of why it is important for both the horse and rider to have agency and be moving with ‘skilled intentionality’ in the activities that they engage in together.

Main takeaway
Effective practice design provides opportunities for the horse and rider to explore movement problems and be able to actively find solutions that are variable and functional for them at their current level of ability and learning.

Coaches are encouraged to move toward being learning environment designers, supporting horse-rider partnerships to become effective problem solvers; instead of coaches seeing themselves as solution providers.

• Perceiving information (including visual, auditory, and haptic [touch, pressure]) plays a vital role in the control of movement because all species have evolved to be tightly connected to their environments through information perception. The over focus on movement shape (e.g., prescribing ideal technique and conscious control) has led to coaching behaviours and practice activities that do not support the ability to pick up vital (specifying) information. Haptic information is the main form of communication between horses and humans.

• The interactions and relationships between an organism (including horses, humans, dyads) and their environment is considered the appropriate level of focus. This moves the focus from things to relationships. The key concept is that an organism’s relationship with the environment is experienced through what the environment offers in terms of opportunities for movement – these opportunities for movement are called affordances. For example, a warm, soft surface may afford a cat a place to sleep, a cross-pole affords a horse-rider dyad to jump in the middle of a jump).

• Considering the horse-rider dyad as a single complex system moves away from a human-centric perspective of compliance and control of the horse, toward partnership, agency, and intentionality.

• Ecological Dynamics is the theory that underpins a constraints-led approach (CLA). The theory provides guiding principles that help coaches to design practice activities. A CLA focusses on changing the relationship between the individual (organism/s), task and environmental constraints acting over multiple timescales and what this means for how behaviour emerges.

• Using examples from the equestrian discipline of showjumping, the article outlines how a CLA can inform coaching behaviour and practice design to support skill acquisition.

There are 4 practice design principles in CLA:

1. Intention – movement and practice activities need to be goal directed. It is important that activity is meaningful and has value and purpose for the learner. This means that the activity is done through self-determined motivation, including the horse in equestrian activities.

2. Representativeness – because the perception of information (visual, auditory, haptic, etc.) controls the self-organisation of emergent movement, it is vital to ensure that the information present during practice is representative of the information present in performance (or participation).
Practice how you play/ perform!

3. Constraints manipulation – by changing the task constraints (e.g., jump types, number, distances, heights, speed), environmental constraints (e.g., weather, surfaces, heat/ light, time of day, noise, crowds), and sometimes organismic constraints (e.g., fatigue, pressure) the horse and rider become more skilful and able to ‘read’ their environment and develop ‘feel.’ It is important to develop coordination (effective perception-action coupling) and capacity (building strength, flexibility, power, etc.). By adapting and changing constraints, coaches seek to design practice activities that dampen affordances for movement solutions that are less functional and amplify affordances that are more functional, without prescribing movement solutions.

4. Functional variability – this relates to the principle of repetition of outcome without repetition of solution. No movement is ever identical, so it is important that practice supports the development of adaptive, flexible, and robust movement repertoires. In showjumping, practice design might include varying starting positions, lines, rhythms, speed, and angles once a stable outcome becomes established, then varying task and environmental constraints such as weather, light, inclines, and surfaces without prescribing idealised movement biomechanics. A big challenge for coaches and riders is to move away from the idea of prescriptive ‘correct’ movements and to focus on wider bandwidths of movement and functional movement solutions which will be different for every horse and rider dyad.

To design practice check out this Periodisation of Skills Training (PosT) adapted from Otte et al.

• Language is powerful in creating and maintaining cultural norms, practices, and behaviours. We have inherited problematic and deeply enculturated language that is used to describe horses as well as our interactions and relationships with them. Horses are regularly described as being ‘honest’, ‘naughty’, ‘lazy’, ‘bombproof’, needing to be ‘squared-up’, ‘kicked-on’, or ‘taught some respect’.

• An important change would be to move away from punishing horses for stopping or running out at jumps. By forcing the horse to choose between jumping or being punished, there is a failure to consider that the horse is an organism that has evolved with acute direct perception of relevant information for action from its environment, related to its own internal dynamics and action capabilities.

• Coach and rider expectations may require a re-evaluation of what may be misconceived horse ‘disobedience’, potentially due to a rider’s inaccurate or badly timed cues, based on poor perception and misuse of affordances. A major aim of practice in equestrianism is to facilitate skilled intentionality and perception-action coupling in the horse-rider system (will jump, can jump!).

Future research areas
Further research is needed to understand the implications and effectiveness of adopting a CLA in equestrian sports along with the challenges and opportunities that coaches are likely to face.

Other potential areas of research include attempting to identify the specifying information sources that are used as affordances for jumping by horses and the range of coordination strategies for calibration of movement toward affordance realisation, with and without riders. Research in these areas would support coaching and training practice and, potentially the design of safer jumping courses.

Finally, further research is needed to understand how the dyadic horse-rider system can reconcile the need for agency of both partners whilst still ensuring both human and equine safety. To achieve this aim, there is a need for the human partner in the dyadic system to become a better haptic communicator, enhancing their attunement to the horse’s needs and affordance perception.

**New Podcast** Calibration: How do horses and riders become attuned to each other and their environments?

We are very excited to publish our first podcast with a focus on equestrian sports.

Join Marianne Davies and her wonderful guests Warren Lamperd (MSc Coaching Science, UKCC L4 Coach & 5* Event Rider), and James Stafford PhD (experimental psychologist specialising in perception-action coupling and calibration of movement), to explore the application of ‘Calibrating perception and Action: How we become skilful at timing our movements’ to the equestrian world.

In this podcast we focus on how the horse and human become attuned to each other and to their shared environment. This is a fascinating conversation, not only for anyone involved in the equestrian world, but for any performance partnerships, human or animal.

Calibration: How do horses and riders become attuned to each other and their environments?

Motivation Part 3. Why motivation changes how we learn.

Optimal learning environments

In parts one and two, we looked at how to create learning environments that lead to more self-motivated, happy, healthy, individuals!  These articles are written primarily to help coaches, coach educators and leaders in adventure and other sports. However, all of the concepts can be applied to you as a learner, participant or parent seeking to improve your skill and motivation, and to feed your passion!

Sian 2Needs-supportive coaching behaviours have an impact on motivation. Sian of ‘Psyched Paddleboarding’ coaching on the beautiful Llyn Padarn. Photo by ‘Two For Joy Photography’.

In these next two sections, we will explore whether motivationally supportive learning environments can also improve skill acquisition, or do we need to choose between them? Be happy and motivated, or be skilful? Most of you will be familiar with the term learner-centred coaching, but what does it mean, and why is it important? In this article, we will look at some of the most recent learner-focused research into coaching sports skills. Most of this research comes from attempts to understand what happens when the coach stops making all the decisions and starts to give the learner more autonomy as part of developing a motivationally supportive learning environment. When both motivation and skill are supported, we can have an optimal learning environment. Continue reading “Motivation Part 3. Why motivation changes how we learn.”

Motivation Part 2. Supportive coaching behaviours.

Creating an optimal learning environment

Okay, so we know that the satisfaction of basic needs has a positive impact on motivation and will influence whether someone continues to participate. That means we need to make sure that we are able to create an optimal learning environment; what is known as a ‘needs supportive learning environment’6. Autonomy is arguably the most important need and is essential for goal-directed behaviour to become self-determined2. It is unique among the basic psychological needs because a participant (particularly an athlete) could satisfy their need for competence with externally controlled (by a coach) deliberate practice, and they could satisfy the need for relatedness by being part of a team, but autonomy is not as easily satisfied in a traditional coaching environment. This is because the coach makes most of the decisions, and the rules and regulations of a sport can further limit the options that can be given to individual participants. Continue reading “Motivation Part 2. Supportive coaching behaviours.”