Study: Rein Tension Varies Between Riders, Affects Horses' Gaits

You know what it means to apply light contact with the bit, but have you ever wondered if your interpretation is the same as other riders’? And how strong is "strong contact," exactly? What kinds of effects do these different hand movements have on your horse--particularly his stride?

ReinCheck study

Riders were studied at the walk and trot to see how their rein contact differed from one another.

These questions are what a couple of England-based equitation science researchers set out to answer. With the use of a patented rein gauge tensionmeter called "ReinCheck," Hayley Edwards, BSc, and Hayley Randle, BSc, PhD, of Duchy College in Cornwall, U.K., compared rein tension from a group of leisure riders at the walk and the trot.

They discovered that "light contact" and "strong contact" did indeed have very different meanings for different riders. The heaviest-handed rider in the group applied more than four times as much force as the rider with the lightest hand, with the difference being most pronounced for "strong contact."

Furthermore, average force for both light and strong contact was up to 50% greater during the trot than the walk, Edwards said during her presentation at the sixth International Equitation Science Conference in Uppsala, Sweden, on July 31. In fact, average "light contact" tension at the trot was about the same as average "strong contact" tension at the walk. "This could suggest that the riders are not very secure in their seat," she said, "as rein contact should be kept the same in both the walk and the trot."

The effects on the horse's gait were clear: Both stride length and individual step length was "significantly influenced" by rein tension, Edwards reported. "Different contacts do have a direct effect on the horse," she said, "and this is an important point to consider." However, further research on these effects is needed to specify the mechanisms of the rein tension/gait relationship, she added.

Future research should also address different kinds of bits, different riding levels, and other ways in which the horse is affected by rein tension, such as head and neck angles and movement of the back, according to Edwards.

In the meantime riding instructors can evaluate their students' rein tension, such as with the use of the ReinCheck tool, to steer toward a more unified perception of what "light contact" and "strong contact" really are, she said.

"Appropriate application of rein contact when riding could enhance rider safety by improving the horse's comfort," Edwards said. "This will also lead to improved horse welfare through correct and more sympathetic training."

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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