A Rider's Effects on Longed Horse Behavior

A Rider's Effects on Longed Horse Behavior

Horses were most likely to swish their tails and toss their heads when cued by the rider, Wilkinson said. They showed these behaviors to a lesser extent with a rider who didn't give cues, and without a rider the behaviors were relatively uncommon.

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British researchers recently determined that riders appear to affect horses' mental stress more than their physical stress during exercise.

Under the direction of Carol Hall, PhD, Rachel Wilkinson, BSc, researcher at Nottingham Trent University, in the U.K., and colleagues compared heart rates and behaviors of horses longed with and without riders. The nine riding school horses were divided into three study groups:

  • Longed with a rider giving signals;
  • Longed with a rider, but with the longer giving signals; and
  • Longed without a rider with the longer giving signals.

Heart rate analyses revealed no significant differences between the horses in the three groups, Wilkinson said, which suggests that the horses experienced no added physical stress when ridden and longed compared to when they were longed alone.

However, the horses' behavior indicated they felt mental stress when the rider was present, and this stress was greatest when the rider gave cues. Horses were most likely to swish their tails and toss their heads when cued by the rider, Wilkinson said. They showed these behaviors to a lesser extent with a rider who didn't give cues, and without a rider the behaviors were relatively uncommon.

"Although physical stress, as indicated by heart rate, was not significantly affected by the rider, behavioral signs indicated that certain aspects of the human-horse interaction can negatively affect the horse," Wilkinson said. "Identification of these factors could allow riders to be trained to minimize such negative effects. The skill of the rider in giving aids and maintaining balance and harmony with the horse will determine the impact of both on performance and welfare."

The study results might also indicate the horses' frustration with confusing signals, according to Hall. "It may be that when horses are longed, they are focusing on the person in the middle," she said. "Ridden longing lessons are usually aimed at developing balance and coordination in the rider without (the rider) having to direct the horse. When signals are coming from the rider, this may be confusing for the horse.

"The findings emphasize the importance of clear and consistent signals," Hall said. "The situation in which these signals are given affects the behavioral response of the horse."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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