“Data Dave” spills the beans on rein tension used by riders


reins-stockHow much pressure are riders really applying to the rein?

And, when it comes to rein tension during contact, how does the rider know what they are doing?

“Are they doing what they think they are doing, or are they doing something completely different?” asked Dr Hayley Randle, who presented her findings from a study of rein tension to delegates at the recent International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference in Delaware, in the United States.

Researchers from Duchy College in Britain set out to find out what differences there were between a rider’s perceived rein tension and their actual rein tension.

Misperceptions between the two could lead to horse welfare and training issues.

“If the person on the ground and the person on the horse are not on the same wavelength, you’ve actually got a barrier in the way already.” says Randle, who is president of the ISES.

A total of 261 participants were gathered from two separate British national equine events, with 89 percent identifying as amateurs, and 11 percent as professionals; within the study were one Olympic and one Paralympic rider.

Most of the riders rode at least twice or three times a week, and the main disciplines listed were leisure riding, showjumping and dressage.

A life-sized horse head, nicknamed “Data Dave”, wore a bridle with cavesson noseband, a single-jointed snaffle bit, and had a Centaur Rein Tension Gauge placed between the bit and soft grip rubber reins.

Participants were placed behind “Data Dave” to mimic the angle and position of a horse-mounted rider.

Participants were asked to rate their perceived rein tension on a scale of 0 (none) to 8 (maximum) for both the
riders right and left hands.

They were then instructed to apply their usual (actual) rein tension, as if they were riding on a walking horse, and an observer recorded the number of lights illuminated for each hand, which were visible only to the

Each participant was tested three times.

For the majority of participants, both perceived rein tension and actual rein tension were greater for the right hand than the left hand.

Professional riders, men, and riders aged 18-30 had a more realistic idea of their overall actual rein tension.

Common to the majority of tested subjects was the significant difference between perceived rein tension and actual rein tension – most participants perceived a heavier tension than they actually used.

Between the disciplines, showjumpers showed the greatest discrepancy, with leisure riders coming
in second. Dressage riders showed the least discrepancy between perceived rein tension and actual rein tension.

Feedback was given to riders after testing; subjects were told of hand dominance (if applicable) and actual rein tension.

Surprising to researchers was how commonly hand dominance occurred in riders, with some riders reportedly
explaining the discrepancies being due to prior injuries having an impact on their ability to be consistent in the contact on the reins.

Of some amusement to researchers was the “I told you so” lectures regarding hand dominance given to
subjects whose testing was observed by their personal riding coaches.

Studies such as this could help improve horse welfare and training, by lessening confusion in instructions given by a trainer to a rider.

“If you’re the rider, and someone is telling you to do something, how do you know that what you are actually doing is right?” Randle said. “And, more importantly, as the trainer on the ground, how do you know that the rider actually really understands what you are telling them; are they thinking it’s actually something very different?”



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