Training Tip Tuesday! Martingales and Rein Tension: How Do They Relate?

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Reins are universally accepted as a means to communicate with the horse. Pressure and release of the reins is essential in the learning process for the horse and consistent and stable rein tension is fundamental to underpinning effective training.

Additional equipment (e.g., martingales and draw reins) are often used to influence the behaviour exhibited by horses with the intent of gaining more control over a horse’s head position and/or to enhance the safety of the rider. The use of such equipment is potentially aversive to the horse and may cause concern if used inappropriately thus compromising horse welfare.

Researchers from Duchy College, Hayley Randle, PhD., Lead Academic Quality and Research and ISES Senior Vice President, and Megan O’Neill BSc (Hons) Equitation Science student. In relation to novice riders Randle stated that “novice riders may find it difficult to match the horse’s movement and rely upon the reins for stability resulting in large rein tensions being applied, inconsistent rein tensions which can lead to confusion for the horse, demonstration of conflict related behaviours and may result in habituation and ultimately the development of Learned Helplessness”.

The objective of the Duchy College study was to investigate the effect of the use of martingale attachments on rein tension in the horse when ridden by novices. Six novice riders rode six horses from Duchy College through three replicates of a predetermined route based on a 20m circle incorporating walk, trot and halt in both directions. During the three phases of testing the horse-rider combinations rode without martingales, with a running martingale and with an Irish martingale. Researchers used rein tension gauges to measure the effect of martingale attachments in the horse ridden by novice riders.

The results showed that martingale use significantly reduced the rein tension and resulted in more consistent rein tensions applied by novice riders. The results suggest that martingale use by novice riders has the potential to decrease the likelihood of unsuccessful training outcomes such as confusion, behaviour indicative of conflict and ultimately the development of Learned Helplessness by dampening the effect of excess or unintended tension; therefore improving the welfare of the ridden horse. Researchers stated that “martingales may have a place in the educational learning environment to improve the welfare of the horse”.

Hayley Randle (Duchy College, United Kingdom); Megan O'Neill (Duchy College, UK)