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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

A rein tension signal can be reduced by half in a single training session

Eisersio, Marie; Yngvesson, Jenny; Bystrom, Anna; Baragli, Paolo; Egenvall, Agneta


Rein tension signals are, in essence, pressures applied on the horse's mouth or nose, via the bit/noseband, by a rider or trainer. These pressures may feel uncomfortable or even painful to the horse and therefore it is important to reduce rein tension magnitude to a minimum. The aim of this study was to investigate the magnitude of a rein tension signal for backing up, using negative reinforcement. We wanted to assess how much the magnitude of rein tension could be reduced over eight trials and if the learning process would differ depending on headstall (bridle/halter). Twenty Warmblood horses were trained to step back from a rein tension signal with the handler standing next to the horse, holding the hands above the horse's withers. As soon as the horses stepped back, rein tension was released. The horses were either trained with a bridle first (first treatment, eight trials) and then with a halter (second treatment, eight trials), or vice versa in a cross-over design. All horses wore a rein tension meter and behavior was recorded from video. The sum of left and right maximum rein tension from onset of the rein tension signal to onset of backing (signaling rein tension) was determined for each trial. Mixed linear and logistic regression models were used for the data analysis. In both treatments, signaling rein tension was significantly lower in trial 7-8 than the first trial (p < 0.02). Likewise, signaling rein tension was significantly lower (p < 0.01), and the horses responded significantly faster, (p < 0.001) in the second treatment compared to the first, regardless of headstall. The maximum rein tension was reduced from 35 N to 17 N for bridle (sum of left and right rein) and from 25 N to 15 N for halter in the first eight trials. Rein tension was then further reduced to 10 N for both bridle and halter over the eight additional trials in the second treatment, i.e. to approximately 5 N in each rein. There was no significant difference in learning performance depending on headstall, but the bitted bridle was associated with significantly more head/neck/mouth behaviors. These results suggest that it is possible to reduce maximum rein tension by half in just eight trials. The findings demonstrate how quickly the horse can be taught to respond to progressively lower magnitudes of rein tension through the correct application of negative reinforcement, suggesting possibilities for substantial improvement of equine welfare during training.


Equine behavior 1; Horse training 2; Learning theory 3; Horse-rider interaction 4; Bridle5; Negative reinforcement 6

Published in

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
2021, Volume: 243, article number: 105452
Publisher: ELSEVIER