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Equitana -

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TRANSCRIPT

NARRATION :

These three men have just 2 hours over 2 days to take a wild colt, break it in and ride before an
exacting panel of judges ... at the biggest horse event in the southern hemisphere.For top trainers
Shane Ransley and Dan James, at stake is the chance to prove themselves the Australian Master of
the Way of the Horse.

But for young Warwick McLean, the stakes are even higher. Not only is it the first time someone
from the refined world of dressage has taken on the cowboys on their turf. His mission is nothing
less than to change the way horses are trained right across the planet - by introducing science to
the arcane world of equitation.

Crowd roars

But what none of us know yet is that things are about to go horribly wrong. It begins with the
weather. There's a powerful storm hitting Melbourne on competition day - and our young, unbroken
horses are out in it. Then they are brought inside to this.

crowd roars, horse baulks

Dr Jonica Newby:

I tell you, This is going to be really tough. These two horses, particularly Warwicks are really
stirred up before we even start. Look at him, he's in a lather.

NARRATION :

The horse is actually shaking with fear. It's a devastating start to what they'd hoped would be
their first big public showcase. But the mission, and the story, really starts with the man
watching anxiously from the crowd - Warwick's father - Dr Andrew Mclean.

Dr Andrew McLean:

Yeah. I was always interested in training animals, and I had ferrets that did obstacle courses and
I had ducks that I could lead. And then we had a pet pig and I could lie down on her and I could
ride her.

NARRATION :

Andrew went on to become one of Australia's top equestrians. But unusually, he was also a
zoologist.

Dr Andrew McLean:

There was a big gap between what I was learning from equestrian coaches and what I was teaching my
students in university. And I couldn't really reconcile the two.

NARRATION :

So he decided to do a PhD on horse cognition and learning - but simple curiosity soon turned to
concern. In the absence of science he could see all sorts of myth and pseudo-science taking hold.
Take the notion of dominance, that to teach a horse, you need to act as its leader.

Dr Andrew McLean:

I've seen some really shocking examples of the way people apply dominance and submission theories
to horses.

It makes them want to in various stages of training do things like hobbling horses, tying their
head to the saddle or throwing them to the ground in order to teach them who's boss. I think that's
cruelty.

NARRATION :

Then Andrew came across this fact. A couple of large studies from Europe found two thirds of horses
at the abattoir were sent because they had so called "behaviour problems" - caused by mishandling.

Dr Andrew McLean:

And that means there's something going very horribly wrong with horse training. We're not as good
as we think we are.

NARRATION :

It was the beginning of Andrew's journey to what's now called equitation science, a journey that 15
years on appears to have come to a grinding halt.

Dr Jonica Newby:

We're 45 minutes in and Warwick hasn't yet caught his horse

NARRATION :

To add to his woes, this western style competition uses a round yard - which warwick never uses.
Without rope skills, he's had no way of touching his frightened horse unless it lets him. Cowboy
Dan meanwhile, who started with a calm horse and is a rope man par excellence is making it look
easy.

Crowd cheers as he does something good.

NARRATION :

So what goes so horribly wrong with your average horse rider? Well, the trouble is, most of us
humans can't help thinking horses are much smarter than they are.

Dr Jonica Newby:

As part of his PhD, Andrew conducted some cognitive experiments - let's see how they go.

Dr Andrew McLean:

Right side

He's watching the oats go in the right-hand bucket.

Andrew:

And let go

NARRATION :

Can he pick the correct one?

Jonica:

He got that, very nice.

NARRATION :

Now what happens if we introduce a short delay.

Andrew:

Right side

Pause while the horse looks at oats poured.

Andrew:

Ten seconds, let go

Jonica:

C'mon, you can do it! He saw that, I saw him looking! Laugh

Andrew:

He's forgotten.

NARRATION :

It was the same over repeat experiments with many horses - introduce a delay and they did no better
than chance. This was a test of object permanence - the ability to picture something is still there
once its no longer in sight. Dogs can do this. But horses are similarly poor at mazes,
observational learning, reverse discrimination - in fact on most IQ tests, they score about as well
as a goldfish. To be fair, the horse didn't evolve as a problem solver - to escape predators he
runs, and to find food - well its not that hard.

Dr Jonica Newby:

Grass doesn't hide.

Dr Andrew McLean:

That's right. And so you don't need to plan to catch it .

NARRATION :

And our failure to recognise the horse's cognitive limitations has real consequences when we come
to ride them.

Dr Jonica Newby:

Well, as I had a misspent youth in the saddle, I have foolishly volunteered to put myself under
Andrews scientific scrutiny.

NARRATION :

Andrew has chosen a trot to stop task to illustrate the biggest mistake most people make. It's all
about timing.

Jonica:

OK trot to halt ... what do you reckon?

Andrew:

Terrible. Laugh.

NARRATION :

You see, I didn't release the rein pressure as soon as the horse began to stop - I kept pulling.
Because my timing was poor, the horse can't work out what he was rewarded for - he doesn't know it
was for stopping ... that was seconds ago.

Dr Andrew McLean:

You really can't even afford to be one second late. It's got to be that much on time because there
really isn't that computing ability, that ability to reflect back into what's happened,

Jonica:

One second?

Andrew:

Yeah.

NARRATION :

Poor timing leads to confusion. His brain may revert to its basic anti-predator response ...
rearing, bolting ... the very things that can send him on the slippery spiral to the knackery.
Meanwhile, it looks like I've fallen for one of those horse riding myths.

Dr Jonica Newby:

So my whole life I've been taught a pat means good boy and that's just wrong.

Dr Andrew McLean:

Yeah, that's a myth. Its really not that different from punishment.

NARRATION :

Its much better to rub this bit in front of the wither where research shows the heart rate slows.

Dr Andrew McLean:

That's the beauty of science. It doesn't lock us in any place where we feel we need to defend our
method that we did 10 years ago. We're moving because there are always new things that we're
discovering

NARRATION :

In the past few years, the equitation scientists have published in journals - established an
international symposium.

Dr Jonica Newby:

But all that is literally academic. Unless they can win the hearts and minds of horse people, they
will fail.

NARRATION :

And to do that, they have to show they can win - or at least be competitive. But Dan is miles ahead
of Warwick - and you can see the strain of hopes slowly disintegrating. Young Warwick has broken in
more than 700 horses using the evidence based training he's developed with his dad. But in this
unfamiliar round yard, he hasn't been able to show a second of it.

As night falls, and the storm over Melbourne continues ...

PA system:"Time's up"

... its fair to say the entire McLean camp are in shock.

It's day two, and there are only 45 minutes left on the clock. Warwick starts effectively an hour
and a half behind Dan. But there's some breaking good news -

Dr Jonica Newby:

Overnight, the judges have agreed to change the shape of the yard to be more like what Warwick
normally works with, fingers crossed he can make a comeback.

NARRATION :

At least now he may finally have a chance to show their method. It's based on a science of how
animals learn, known as Learning Theory - and you've probably heard of bits of it.

Dr Jonica Newby:

OK so what he's doing now is called habituation where he's getting the horse used to the stimulus.

NARRATION :

But he's also starting to use operant conditioning. He's removing the stick when the horse does
what he wants, which I think is to stand still quietly. This is called negative reinforcement. It's
not bad for the horse - it simply means the reward is to remove a pressure. Now he's shaping -
changing the stimulus gradually from the stick to the hand ...

... and here's a chance to use positive re-enforcement - that special rub that lowers a horses
heart rate. And its all working ... the halter is on.

This is a massive step forward in a short amount of time - but he's still dealing with a horse that
can't make up its mind whether Warwick's a predator.

VO PA woman: 15:25:00ish: Warwick has probably ended up with one of the nerviest horses in the
competition.

And this horse has one deadly anti-predator move left in him.

Horse strikes ... narrowly misses Warwick's head.

But gently, he continues ....

PA: Good job Warwick

PA: Times up.

And that's it - competition over.

Things didn't go the way they'd expected, but in just 45 minutes Warwick has taught this wild,
nervy colt to lead, reinback, move away, and the beginnings of bareback riding.

Dr Andrew McLean:

Well, I couldn't be more proud of him. Hes come from a long way back and he's kicking goals so I'm
really happy,

NARRATION :

As for his competitors Dan and Shane - well, they may have different methods, but like all top
trainers, they've shown an intuitive grasp of Learning Theory's principles.

And the winner is Dan James.

Andrew's dream is a world where anyone can have the tools to teach a horse as well as these guys.

Meanwhile, it appears Warwick has won over more of the crowd than he realised.

The owner of his horse announces publicly he'd be honoured to let Warwick finish its breaking ....

... and this the result.

3 hours of training later - we see Warwick taking the horse over jumps.

Dr Andrew McLean:

I didn't set out to make this mission. It's just a mission that increasingly got bigger in front of
me.

NARRATION :

Its really catching on in Europe, and this will be the way of the future. Everyone will be training
this way in 50 years. There's no doubt this young man - and his dad - will be back.