ISES Training Principles

This page explains how each of the 8 ISES Training Principles apply to the Kandoo training method.

What is ISES?

"The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) is a not-for-profit organisation that chiefly aims to facilitate research into the training of horses to enhance horse welfare and improve the horse-rider relationship."

Visit the ISES website to learn more.

Download your copy of the 8 Principles of Training.

The 8 Principles below are based in learning theory. It is important to understand learning theory when training - see the Science section for more detail.

McGreevy and McLean's book Equitation Science is an invaluable addition to any horse owner's library. You can find it at Amazon by clicking here.


The 8 Training Principles:

1. Release the pressure immediately when the horse responds - Soften the pressure of the signal (such as rein or leg pressure) the instant the horse responds appropriately.

As an example, when teaching a horse to load on to the trailer we might use a dressage whip to tap his hip to ask for forward movement. As soon as the horse steps forward, even a very small step, we instantly stop tapping as a reward for that movement we were wanting. This is known as 'negative reinforcement' simply because something (pressure = tapping the hip) is being taken away. The horse quickly learns how to make the tapping (stimulus or cue) stop, by stepping forward (the conditioned response) and the trainer learns to recognize small improvements in the horses responses and reward these (shaping).

It is important to understand learning theory when training - see the Science section for more detail.

McGreevy and McLean's book Equitation Science is an invaluable addition to any horse owner's library. You can find it at Amazon by clicking here.

2. Use signals that the horse can differentiate - Signals must be clearly distinguishable from each other (i.e., use one signal to go with faster steps and another signal to go longer in the stride).

In our trailer loading example we could use tapping on the hip for go forward and tapping lower down the horse's hindquarter to move the horse's hips over when he is not staying straight on approach to the trailer.

3. Train and initiate responses one at a time (shaping) - Train each response component of complex movements separately. Separate opposing signals (such as reins and the rider's legs) by not using them at exactly the same moment.

Using our trailer loading example here, the response we are seeking is a go forward (and go backwards) step. We need to break each of these down to make it simpler for the horse. We would do this by first of all getting the two responses (step forwards and step backwards) away from the trailer. This would ensure that the horse understood the cues (tapping on the hip for go forwards and pressure on the lead rope/bit for step back). Once established we could begin to 'shape' the response by recognizing the smallest of 'tries' and releasing the pressure at that moment. The horse might 'think' forward and shift his weight slightly forward at the bottom of the ramp - while he hasn't stepped on the ramp, he has made an effort in that direction and failing to recognize this will lead to confusion and frustration in the horse.

4. Train habitual responses using consistency and repetition. The horse will automatically respond in the desired way if the behaviour is precisely targeted (i.e., train all movements and transitions to occur with consistent characteristics, including timing and duration.

When forming habits in the horse we not only  need to be consistent and clear but we need to ask for the same thing each time. In our trailer loading/unloading example we might ask the horse to step back (unloading) three steps. Therefore each time we ask for steps back the horse will learn that it means 3 steps. After that we can ask for another three. This establishes the habit in the horse, it makes it easy for the horse to understand and it gives him confidence as he knows exactly what is being asked of him.

5. Train only one response per signal. Reinforce only one response for each separate signal, although signals for the same response can be associated with each other.

In our trailer loading example we are tapping the horse's hip to get forward movement. I often find that horses swing their hips to the right when they are reluctant to get on to the trailer and so I teach them to move their hips to the left by tapping them below the hip on the hindquarter. This is a similar cue to go forward but in a slightly different place so that the horse can distinguish the two.

A particular response, such as go forward, can be elicited by more than one signal. For example, one might use gentle forward pressure on the lead rope, tapping the hip or both legs together (under saddle) to ask the horse forward.

6. Avoid fear during training - During all horse/human interactions, make sure that characteristics of the environment, including the humans, do not become associated with fear in the horse.

If your horse is frightened he is not learning. One often hears that making the trailer the 'nice place to be' is the way to teach a horse to load. Unfortunately this also often means that the horse gets chased around and very frightened outside the trailer. The end result is a terrified horse that is trying to escape. Not only is the horse now considerably less likely to get on the trailer but the handler may now instill fear into the horse in any other situation they find themselves together; affecting not only the trailer loading problem but the horse-human relationship as a whole.

7. Train persistence of responses - Reward the horse for maintaining a behaviour by NOT applying pressure until the next signal is given (at which point pressure is again applied).

The horse should continue to do what has been asked until he is asked to do something else. This means that if you have asked the horse to back off the trailer using gentle pressure on the bridle/head-collar then as soon as he begins to back the pressure should be released - there should be no pressure when the horse is backing, and pressure can be picked up again when the horse stops backing if necessary.

This particular point is vital to remember and is probably most easily illustrated when the horse is in self-carriage. There should NOT be any continuous leg and/or rein pressure to 'keep' the horse in self-carriage; the horse is trained to maintain the carriage.

8. Check for relaxation - Strive for relaxation when training each response and vary only for the relevant level of activity. Techniques and equipment must not be used to mask distress or undesirable behaviour.

As with all training, when teaching trailer loading, relaxation is of paramount importance. A horse that is stressed or anxious will display conflict behaviours such as rearing, pawing and throwing his head. Such horses are often drugged with tranquilizers but this is simply masking the problem. A relaxed horse that is absorbing the lesson will be visibly calm and progressing at a consistent pace.


In many situations riders try to 'hide' the horse's lack of relaxation with tack such as tight nosebands or equipment that ties the horse into a certain outline. Training with such devices will not result in a relaxed, calm  and safe horse.