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Doctoral thesis2023Open access

Straight from the horse’s mouth : What we can learn about rein tension by observing horse behaviour

Eisersiö, Marie


Horse-rider-interaction is largely dependent on rein tension signals which, through pressure and release, communicate with the horse about pace, direction of travel and appropriate head posture. However, the pressures applied on the horse’s mouth and/or head via the reins can cause pain and discomfort, leading to evasive behaviour and oral injuries. This thesis investigated rein tension signals from the perspective of equine behaviour and learning. Rein tension data were collected while backing up the horse from stand-still, with the handler standing next to the horse, comparing a bitted bridle with a soft halter, and in the ridden horse, making transitions from trot to walk using a bitted bridle. The results showed that rein tension signal magnitude could be reduced in a single training session through applying classical and operant learning principles. The rein tension signal was characterised by an increase in rein tension of less than 10 N (less than ~1kg) in each rein, regardless of baseline rein tension. Bit pressure elicited more evasive head/neck/mouth behaviour, with the main function to reduce oral pressure, compared with pressure on the nose from a soft halter. In terms of learning, the horses performed equally well with the halter and the bitted bridle. Thus studying horse behaviour can reveal the rein tension magnitude at which a horse feels comfortable and rein tension can be effectively reduced using the principles of classical and operant learning.


rein tension; equine behaviour; equine welfare; equine learning; dressage; horse-back riding; horse-rider-interaction

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2023, number: 2023:96ISBN: 978-91-8046-244-0, eISBN: 978-91-8046-245-7
Publisher: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Behavioral Sciences Biology

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