Study: Rein Modifiers Helpful for Novice Riding Lessons

A training martingale--a piece of equipment with rings on either side of the horse's neck to stabilize rein position--might provide a more comfortable experience for lesson horses in novice riding programs.

In a study at Michigan State University, Camie Heleski, PhD, and her colleagues observed novice riders mounted on horses fitted with and without adjustable training martingales to see if the rein modifications had any effect on the conflict behaviors some lesson horses show when ridden with inconsistent rein tension.

Novice riders were defined as riders who showed a clear lack of independence between seat and hands. Conflict behaviors in the lesson horses included chomping the bit, tilting the head, pinning the ears, and lashing or swishing of the tail. The less tolerant the horse, the more these behaviors are seen when the horse is ridden with inconsistent bit pressure typical of beginning riders.

When ridden with the training martingale, horses in the study maintained what was considered a comfortable head and neck position-one where the eye and withers are at approximately the same height--as opposed to a "hollow" posture, where the head and neck are raised with the nose above the vertical. "We believe that a position where the eye is approximately at the same level of the withers leads to greater back comfort, which in turn leads to greater longevity in the lesson horse," said Heleski. More research is needed to test this hypothesis.

"It is important to understand that the purpose of the training martingale is not to force the horse into an unusual or unnatural position," said Heleski. "Rather, this is something that might be used when the rider's hands get way out of position.

"For instructors giving novice lessons under limited time constraints, this might be a little bit of help to the horse," Heleski said.

The paper was published in the July edition of The Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available on PubMed.  

More information about equitation science.  

About the Author

Nancy Zacks, MS

Nancy Zacks holds an M.S. in Science Journalism from the Boston University College of Communication. She grew up in suburban Philadelphia where she learned to ride over fields and fences in nearby Malvern, Pa. When not writing, she enjoys riding at an eventing barn, drawing and painting horses, volunteering at a therapeutic riding program, and walking with Lilly, her black Labrador Retriever.

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