Study Evaluates Rein Tension and Horses' Rideability

Study Evaluates Rein Tension and Horses' Rideability

Researchers found that the largest factor affecting a horse's rideability score was his rider's maximum and average rein tension.


Editor's note: This article is part of's ongoing coverage of topics presented at the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dressage horses—especially stallions under consideration for breeding approval—are often tested for what is known as "rideability." But what does this mean, exactly? With current rideability testing being based on a subjective scoring system by riding judges, a team of German equestrian scientists set out to find more objective criteria to evaluate rideability.

Uta König von Borstel, PhD, equitation scientist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, said her team found via a recent equitation science study that frequently, when riding judges are considering how "rideable" a horse is, what they’re really after is how much rein tension they’re having to use. König von Borstel presented the results of the study at the 8th International Society for Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland. 
König von Borstel and colleagues tested the rein tension and behavior of 46 warmblood mares and stallions ridden by 15 different riders during three different performance tests in Germany. Some behaviors like swishing the tail and shying appeared to affect the judges’ scores of rideability, König von Borstel said. But the largest factor affecting these scores was a horse’s maximum rein tension and average rein tension.
"One single measurement—maximum rein tension—explains 17% of the variance in rideability scores," König von Borstel said during her presentation. "And if rein tension rises 10 newtons (a little over two pounds), that translates on average into a half-point drop in rideability scores. Considering that rideability scores usually only vary by two or three points at most, that’s significant. So rein tension does seem to be something that judges are using to evaluate rideability."
Although rein tension appears to be the primary factor affecting rideability scores, it's not the only one, and some "feeling" among the judges seems to play a role in final scores, König von Borstel said. She said she also noted through her study that rein tension varied significantly from one judge to another. 
Even so, including a rein tension component into performance tests could make these evaluations more transparent and consistent, she said. 
"There's a real need to improve riding evaluations because the current system is essentially useless, with so much relying on subjectivity and so much irregularity," König von Borstel said. "There’s also an ongoing problem of inflation, with scores getting higher every year. And even though there is a set of guidelines, hardly any of the judges actually use them (because they aren’t practical)."
However, the inclusion of “technical equipment” such as a rein tension gauge in such evaluations might be long in coming, according to König von Borstel. Although some judges from her study were open to the idea, many were "more conservative" and could be more resistant to relying on technology for their performance tests. 
"Some are enthusiastic and eager about this," she said. "But I just don’t see it accepted yet in practice."

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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