Riders think they know more than they do
A new study is the first to show that equestrians tend to over-estimate their equine knowledge
THE phrase, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” has long been thought to be applicable in the horse world — and a new study appears to back this up.
Scientists behind research into whether riders can accurately assess their levels of equestrian knowledge found this not to be the case, and riders “think they know more than they do”.
Dr David Marlin, who has worked as a consultant to the British equestrian teams since 1994, was on the study team.
He told H&H it involved groups of equestrian and non-equestrian participants with different levels of education. Both groups were asked to complete a general knowledge questionnaire and estimate how many questions they had answered correctly.
The group of equestrians was also asked to complete a set of equine-specific questions and again estimate how well they thought they had performed.
“Asking this was used as an indicator of confidence,” Dr
Marlin said. “So if you thought you’d got 10 right and did get 10 right, that’s the same as someone thinking they’d got 40 right and getting 40 right; it’s the same level of confidence in your ability.”
Dr Marlin said in the general knowledge quiz both groups performed to similar levels and estimated their results fairly accurately. But when the equestrians estimated their results in the equine quiz, there was a different result.
“The scores were slightly lower but, on average, they thought they’d done better,” Dr Marlin said. “They significantly overestimated how they’d done.”
The research, which involved 128 equestrians and 123 others, was the first to provide evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, by which lower performers tend to be unaware of their lack of knowledge or ability, in riders.
“It’s a relatively small sample and we need to repeat this,” Dr Marlin said. “But we can see that in terms of general knowledge, horsey and non-horsey people scored about the same and were fairly realistic about performance.
“But when it came to horsey knowledge, the lowest group in terms of knowledge was most aware of this lack, and those who scored highest were most aware of their knowledge level — but the middle-scoring people overestimated the most.
“It’s the saying: ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.
“The lowest-level people are aware they’ve got a low level of knowledge; it’s the next group up, who have some knowledge, but think they know a lot more.”
Dr Marlin said he thinks this is exacerbated by the information available on social media, as people without much knowledge will share unreliable information.
“I don’t really know what the answer is, but it’s useful for us interested in education,” he added. “I think we need to be aware of how horse owners behave and think; if we want to engage better, we need to understand behaviour better.”
The researchers, David Marlin, Hayley Randle, Lynn Pal and Jane Williams, said collectively that the findings of the study were “alarming”.
“This is the first study to show riders over-estimate their knowledge, indicating an over-confidence. Horse riders think they know more than they actually know,” they said.
“This over-confidence can have serious consequences on welfare of horses, could affect the mental health of riders, and raises important safety issues to the rider and horse.”
Rosie Jones McVey, who has completed a PhD in social anthropology, has researched extensively into the “ethics of British horse people”.
She told H&H that having spent a great deal of time on yards for her PhD, she agrees with the research, but that there is “more to it”.
“I think it’s partly down to cultural values of being sure of yourself,” she said. “I think it dates to riding’s military heritage in Britain; people don’t take kindly to those who are self-deprecating and unsure. It’s not surprising that if you stick around horses, you develop a degree of conviction, as otherwise, others might think you’re ‘not horsey enough’.”
Ms Jones McVey added that also, horses respond better to confident rather than unsure people.
“Horse people are as a stereotype brash and sure of themselves, as you get further that way,” she added.
‘A little knowledge is a dangerous
DR DAVID MARLIN
The research looked at riders’ awareness of their own knowledge