Guidance given on horse rein-tension studies in fresh review

A strain gauge attached securely to the rein (left) with a metal clip for attachment to the bit.
Note that none of the components are elastic. Image: Clayton et al.

Rein tension devices provide researchers with a chance to assess a key communication system between the rider and horse, but there is a lack of standardized guidance on their use, researchers report.

Hilary Clayton and her fellow researchers, in a just-published review, examined 33 scientific papers to formulate information on how to select and interface the components of a rein tension measurement system to allow the collection of accurate and reliable data.

The review team, writing in the journal Animals, said reins are used to control the speed and direction of the horse’s movement through the application of tension.

When the rider holds the reins with a constant light contact, the mechanics of each gait are associated with a cyclic pattern of head and neck movements that is revealed in rein tension oscillations that have a typical shape and repetition frequency in each gait.

The effects of the rider’s aids, rider imbalance and extraneous movements of the horse’s head and neck are superimposed on the basic patterns of the gaits.

“Rein tension is of interest to scientists and horsemen alike,” they said. “Tension is relatively easy to measure but the equipment, analytic techniques and reporting of rein tension vary greatly.”

Given the direct connection from the rider’s hand to the horse’s mouth, rein tension data can have welfare implications, since the use of high forces may cause pain, discomfort, and oral lesions, they said.

“An important application of rein tension measurements lies in their use as a tool to improve equestrianism and horse welfare. This requires the collection of accurate data, calculation of appropriate variables, and the use of valid analytical methods.”

The authors noted that there have been several studies using different transducers, calibration methods and analytical techniques.

“Although rein tension devices are becoming widely used,” they said, “there is a paucity of guidance and standardization regarding the technical requirements of these devices and how to treat the resulting data.”

In their paper, they describe how to select and interface the components of a rein tension measurement system to aid the collection of accurate and reliable data. They also described common pitfalls.

Their main recommendations are:

  • To choose sensors with an appropriate range and sensitivity based on existing literature;
  • To calibrate sensors before and after each data collection (and during data collection if recommended by the manufacturers);
  • To analyze variables that are appropriate to the study objectives; and
  • To check the statistical distribution of the variables and transform if necessary.

The review team also made a range of other recommendations to help standardize reporting and allow study comparisons.

Authors, they said, should provide the number of horses, their level of training and, if available, their age, height, weight, dental history, and information regarding their side preference.

The bridle type and fit should be described, including the noseband type and adjustment. There should be information on the bit type and the reins, including the material, length and adjustment of side reins.

Details on the riders should include their number, weight, height, level of equestrian experience, and whether they are left or right-handed.

The style of riding should also be described: Loose reins or on a contact, seating style (sitting, rising, light seat), position and balance.

Sensor information should include the type of transducer, the model and manufacturer, its weight, specifications regarding sensitivity and range, frequency and method of calibration, sampling frequency, transmission and storage of data.

Researchers should also describe the surface or footing, whether the experiment is conducted indoors or outdoors, the gait used, the speed, direction, turn or circle radius, and any relevant environmental details, including the weather.

In terms of data analysis, information should be included on the filtering method and parameters, the stride-splitting method, extraction of discrete data points, calculation of variables, and statistical analysis.

The review team comprised Clayton, with Michigan State University; Russell MacKechnie-Guire, with Centaur Biomechanics in England; Anna Byström and Agneta Egenvall, with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; and Sarah Le Jeune, with the University of California, Davis.

Clayton, H.; MacKechnie-Guire, R.; Byström, A.; Le Jeune, S.; Egenvall, A. Guidelines for the Measurement of Rein Tension in Equestrian Sport. Animals 2021, 11, 2875.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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