Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington

Marthe Kiley-Worthington is an internationally renowned ethologist and animal behaviour expert. Raised in Kenya, Dr Kiley-Worthington was then university-educated in the UK, before returning to Africa to continue her research and set up a farm. She then returned to the UK to complete her doctorate in communication in domestic and wild large mammals with Sussex University. Her postdoctoral work included developing an ethogram for cattle, and studying wild eland and blesbok. In 1973 she set up her first experimental ecological farm, while continuing her studies into cattle and equine behaviour. She is currently the Director of the Ecological Research and Education Centre in France, which provides consultancy services in ecological agriculture and in animal behaviour. Her research into animal behaviour continues focussing on domestic and African mammals especially elephants, rhino and buffalo in Zimbabwe.  Dr Kiley-Worthington has written numerous books including ‘The behaviour of horses in relation to management and training’, ‘Equine welfare’, ‘Equine education’ and ‘Horse watch: the equine report’.

 1.  What led you to a career in animal behaviour?
I decided when I was 6 I wanted to find out what went on the  head of my duiker, pony and puppy. Animal behaviour did not exist as a discipline, so worked away at it alone in Africa with no direction or literature, but then Tinbergen offered me a place for a doctorate at Oxford, ( which I did not take up because it was to work on gulls) and put me in touch with one or two others beginning the study.

 2.  What are your current main research interests?
The last remaining welfare question is what does the individual animal think of the environment in which he is put? .. that is  large mammal cognition, &  minds.  This involves both their living conditions and their teaching. Animal educational psychology ( improving teaching of animals based on work done with gifted children) it an area which I am developing as a new science based not only on science but also on critically assessed folk knowledge and experience, absence of preconceived notions, and philosophy of mind.

3. What do you think is the most intriguing unanswered question in the field of animal behaviour?
Trying to assess a different species different point of view of the world, his subjectivity.

4. What do you consider to be the most serious welfare issue in domestic horses?
Raping of mares by tying them up twitching etc for copulation with a stallion who has no social knowledge, current practice for all registered horses! A lack of understanding of what it is to be a horse, and how learning leading to bad  handling & training and many behavioural problems that are easily avoided. Horse keeping and training is steeped in traditional practises some of which cause considerable suffering to horses and humans. Unfortunately the new vogue of ‘natural horsemen’ are not changing this, just replacing one set of traditions and dogma with another!.

 5. If horse owners should change one thing about the way they keep their horses in the UK, what would that be?
Make it illegal to keep horses stabled for 24 hours in individual stables, ( as is the case in Switzerland now), make it illegal  not  to give horses access to forage/fibre foods most of the time, and ensure the horses go out with others and have some social life with their own species.

6. What do you consider to be the most common misconception surrounding the domestic horse?
hat he behaves according to ‘instinct’ so nothing can be done about it, he does not think or reason and therefore is stupid and has to have everything repeated to learn it. He actually learns very fast (within 7 trials for a new simple action, often faster than 5 year old children) IF he is properly taught. Lack of understanding of his quick learning, remembering, understanding cause and effect, ability to predict and reasoning, results in unhelpful practices and lack of cognitive stimulation  (by either scientist or keeper)  which confirms these preconceptions born from lack of serious thought.  

7. Could you tell us a little about your Eco research and Education Centre?
We are testing out whether or not an Ecological Farm defined as: A self sustaining diversified high net yielding farm where wildlife conservation is integrated with food production and the whole farm is a nature reserve and where we experiment with a further understanding and provision of a life of quality for all our animals. It is a very beautiful 180h site in the mountains of La Drome France. We do research on animal welfare issues large mammal minds and improved teaching. We have the world’s longest running research programme on a herd of horses the Druimghigha Stud now in its 7th generation and continue to do observational & experimental research on them. We run courses, take students of all levels, and have an academy for large mammal educational psychology.  Web site www.eco-etho-recherche.com & www.horseridingfrance.com

8. Could you tell us about your work in Africa?
We were one of the first to start teaching elephants to be ridden in Africa using the improved teaching derived from work with gifted children. Now it has become a tourist industry but we continue to teach the handlers and owners about welfare & teaching all large mammals. Our academy in South Africa is soon to open for government approved training courses for people from all over the world dealing with animals: zoo & wildlife managers and keepers, tourist businesses with animals, farmers, pet keepers & trainers, circus people, those using mammals for therapy of humans, gun dogs, guide dogs,  monkeys & dogs for the blind or deaf, use of animals for helping with leadership  &  human relations. (Publications available from email & textbook in March 2012)

9. Your book ‘Horse watch: the equine report’ describes the study of your group of horses that you have owned for six equine generations. What are the two main lessons you have learnt from your studies of the group?
That ‘dominance hierarchy’ in horses is an unsupported dogma that is only created in unnatural situations, that we must look at horses (and other animals) in terms of the roles they each acquire in the society and measure  and understand better their personalities.  Their social lives are as complex as humans social lives, like it or not!

That life time experiences, as in humans, has   a very much greater effect on their subsequent behaviour than genes. Cultures are created in every stable, the important thing is to develop a culture that enriches the life of the horses and the humans involved.

Horse Watch is the first book which has attempted to outline the ways we may be able to assess species subjectivity (their individual point of view) but written for the interested layman as well as the scientist. It is the first one written by a modern scientist/philosopher that has tried to do this, other than for the great apes and possibly dogs. It is available from us or from Amazon.  


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