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Rein Tension Signals Elicit Different Behavioral Responses When Comparing Bitted Bridle and Halter

, Anna Byström, Jenny Yngvesson, Paolo Baragli, Antonio Lanata, Agneta Egenvall
Published: 7 May 2021
Frontiers in Veterinary Science , Volume 8; doi:10.3389/fvets.2021.652015

Abstract: When a rider maintains contact on the reins, rein tension will vary continuously in synchronicity with the horse's gait and stride. This continuous variation makes it difficult to isolate the rein tension variations that represent a rein tension signal, complicating interpretation of rein tension data from the perspective of horse-rider interaction. This study investigated (1) the characteristics of a rein tension signal and (2) horse response to a rein tension signal for backing, comparing pressure applied by a bit (bridle), or by a noseband (halter). Twenty Warmblood horses (10 young, 10 adult) wearing a rein tension meter were trained to step back in the aisle of a stable. The handler stood next to the horse's withers, applying tension on the reins until the horse stepped back. This was repeated eight times with the bridle and eight times with the halter. Data analysis was performed using mixed linear and logistic regression models. Horses displaying behaviors other than backing showed significantly increased response latency and rein tension. Inattentive behavior was significantly more common in the halter treatment and in young horses, compared with the bridle treatment and adult horses. Evasive behaviors with the head, neck, and mouth were significantly more common in the bridle treatment than in the halter treatment and the occurrence of head/neck/mouth behaviors increased with increasing rein tension and duration of the rein tension signal. When controlling for behavior, the horses responded significantly faster and to a lighter rein tension signal in the bridle treatment than in the halter treatment. By scrutinizing data on rein tension signals in relation to horse behavior and training exercise, more can be learnt about the horse's experience of the pressures applied and the timing of the release. This can assist in developing ways to evaluate rein tension in relation to correct use of negative reinforcement.
Keywords: Negative Reinforcement / Equine behavior / Horse training / horse-rider interaction / headstall

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