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

Horse & Hound - - Contents - By ELEANOR JONES

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

thing’

DR DAVID MAR­LIN

The re­search looked at riders’ aware­ness of their own knowl­edge

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