Riders' application of rein tension for walk-to-halt transitions on a model horse

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Rein cues have been used for millennia when controlling horses. Recent research has quantified the range of tensions exerted on the horse's mouth by bit and rein apparatus under a variety of conditions and investigating the tension horses will freely tolerate. Given the importance of rein tension in terms of controlling horses and the potential for welfare issues arising from use of apparatus in the horse's mouth, this study the tensions created by riders (n = 12) performing walk to halt gait transitions on a model horse. The mean tension when applying the deceleration cue of the left rein (mean tension, 8.58 N; standard deviation = 5.15; range = 3.14-28.92 N) was greater than the right rein (mean tension, 6.24 N; standard deviation = 4.1; range = 2.27-16.17 N). Little correlation was found between rider morphometry and rein tension. Although the deceleration cue was significantly higher than the resting tension by 51% for the right rein (P < 0.001) and by 59% for the left rein (P < 0.001), there was large variation between and within riders. These findings suggest the need for greater awareness of the potential for rein tensions to vary from principles of good horse welfare and training principles.