I once bought my daughter a pair of Rein Aids on the recommendation of her trainer because she has weakness in one arm and hand, and that caused uneven tension on her reins, and you know what that does. Other riders who have equal use of both hands use them, too, along with all sorts of other aids that are intended to reduce or equalize pressure on the horse’s head and mouth. I’ve always wondered if they actually worked in the way intended. The following summary of a study done by Dr. Hillary Clayton and colleagues at the Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University, and published by PubMed gives some information, but not enough to answer my question completely.
Unsteady hand position can cause discomfort to the horse, potentially leading to conflict behaviours (CB) such as head tossing or tail lashing. Some instructors feel that martingales or elastic rein inserts can reduce discomfort caused by inexperienced and unsteady hands. Others consider these devices to be inappropriate ‘crutches’. Four horses and nine riders were tested under three conditions in random order: plain reins, adjustable training martingales (TM), and elasticised rein inserts (RI). Rein-tension data (7s) and behavioural data (30s) were collected in each direction. Rein-tension data were collected via strain-gauge transducers. Behavioural data were assessed using an ethogram of defined behaviours. No differences in the number of CB were observed. Mean rein tension for TM was higher than that of RI or controls. Relative to the withers, the head was lower for horses ridden with martingales. Carefully fitted martingales may have a place in riding schools that teach novices.
The rein tension data are very helpful. I always wanted to know if there was a detectable difference in what the horse can feel. The fact that mean rein tension was higher with the martingale should have been pretty obvious! Isn’t that the whole point? But the fact that there was no detectable difference in conflict behavior with and without the aids was kind of a surprise. I never knew a horse who didn’t object (at least at first) to wearing a martingale. Sure, it eventually does its job–head down!–but I don’t think it’s fun. It’s not only unsteady hand position that can cause discomfort and conflict.
I do not understand the conclusion. Whether or not these devices are seen as crutches (for whom? the horse? the rider?), who is being trained? Do the devices train the rider to have softer hands? Do they train the horses to better tolerate unsteady contact or to keep their heads down and soldier on?
Anyone care to weigh in?
© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal
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