The Science Behind the Art

What makes great horse trainers great?
by Benjamin Flakoll
July 7, 2014

Benjamin Flakoll '16 is a Royce Fellow studying horse performance and motivation in the hopes that his findings will allow him to develop and test humane teaching methods that will serve as a new example for horse training.

Meeting a true genius is an incredible experience. When you see their talent, passion, and skill, you are left in a state of complete awe. Living with Philippe Karl and Bea Borrelle, and being able to observe them and ask them questions about their work with horses, was an experience that went beyond my wildest dreams.

Philippe Karl is a French classical dressage trainer, Bea Borelle is a German circus trainer, and they are two of the greatest trainers alive today. I do not believe this simply because of their talent as riders (which is prodigious), but because of their incredible love and knowledge of these animals.

I came to France to study Philippe and Bea because I thought that their ability to motivate their horses was the thing that made them stand out as trainers. I believed that this was their key to achieving high levels of performance from horses, and that it had a lot to do with the way they reinforced their horses’ behavior. I believed that understanding their training methods could serve as an example to other trainers, and encourage the use of similar horse-friendly techniques and thereby reduce injuries and abuse.

I was partially right, but the truth behind what makes them such fantastic trainers is much more complex. They have vast knowledge and experience, not only about training methods and how to use reinforcement, but also about equine psychology, anatomy, and physiology. It is this knowledge, combined with their empathy and love for horses, and their skills as riders that are the true key to motivation, and unlocking a horse’s potential.

Living with Philippe and Bea, watching them train, and talking with them taught me many things about horsemanship, and what being a great trainer entails. It requires knowledge and love, science and art. My goal is to unveil the science that is behind the art of horsemanship, and thus help passionate riders on their path to becoming the best trainers that they can be.