Horse Scout Bloggers’ conundrum toady: In conversation the other day I was asked about a horse which consistently tensed against his riders hands, his rider wondered what she could do with a pulling horse, and the conversation turned to the use of elastic reins to diffuse tension. The first port of call is always to seek advice from the ground with the help of a professional trainer but the question was an interesting one and I decided to investigate the arguments for and against.
I notice that, among others, Carl Hester sells them through his website shop under the banner “CARL HESTER FANTASTIC ELASTIC DRESSAGE REINS’ The website states that they are designed by the Olympic Gold Medalist to give an elastic feel from the hand to the horses mouth. Followed by a quote from Carl Hester – “As a rider and trainer my constant quest is to connect horse and rider with the ultimate ‘elastic’ feel, these reins do exactly that”
The bullet points for their use state that the elastic inserts
- Encourage a soft consistant contact
- Help improve hand position
- Eliminate resistance in the mouth
- Elastic insert for soft contact
And that they are:-
- Training aid only, not permitted in competition
- Horse size only in black or brown
- Top quality British leather
- Dressage rein has rubber grip on inside
I can certainly understand the thinking behind the design, particularly when teaching riders about the need to think forward at all times and not to rely on force or tension through transitions and that they may well help with the understanding of “feel” in riding.
Conversely I can also empathise with the IESC findings which indicate that, whilst they had a positive impact on tension in horses; riders can easily mistime their rein aids, not release sufficiently or apply to much tension (thus learning bad habits) because the elastic dulls/blurs the feel on the horses mouth. Below is the report from the conference.
17-Aug-last year the 10th International Equitation Science Conference was held in Denmark. This conference covered Equine Stress, Learning and Training and one particular topic was the impact of elastic inserts on rein tension.
They say: Elastic has been used over the years to achieve ‘give’ and flexibility in equestrian equipment such as girths and reins. The reins provide a physical means for the delivery of signals/aids from the human to the horse. Rein design with the inclusion of elastic inserts are designed to “diffuse tension, to avoid pressure on the horse’s mouth and to avoid sustained tension on the reins”. However researchers found that this design can have a substantial impact on the tensions applied particularly when making transitions during equitation.
The study bought to the table to argue this was was conducted by Hayley Randle, PhD, Academic Lead: Quality and Research at Duchy College and Hon. President of the International Society for Equitation Science and Alison Abbey Equitation Science programme manager from Duchy College, UK. Randle and Abbey set out to determine the effect of elastic inserts in reins on first, the tension applied for normal riding and a walk to halt transition, and second, the ability to release the tension in the reins.
Thirty female riders (note: the study does not seem to comment on the expertise of these riders) rode horses with either standard rubber or rubber reins with elastic inserts. Rein tensions were measured using a Centaur Rein Tension Gauge TM for left and right hands, with both rein types when taking up a normal riding contact and executing a walk to halt transition.
The results of the study demonstrated significantly different tensions were applied by riders with the two types of rein. Lower tensions were exerted on reins with the elastic insert than with the rigid reins in the normal riding contact condition, whilst higher tensions were evident with elastic insert reins than with rigid reins in the walk to halt transition. The time taken for rein tension to return to zero following complete release by the rider was significantly greater, and less consistent, with the elastic insert reins than with the rigid reins.
Since sustainable and ethical equitation relies upon the effective delivery and receipt of clear signals and timely pressure-release; rein tension and pressure-release should be used carefully and consistently in training. This study suggests that although elastic inserts in reins may result in less tension in general riding, they may alter riders’ behaviour in terms of the tension applied when executing a particular equitation task. Furthermore, elastic inserts in reins may have a deleterious effect on a rider’s ability to apply negative reinforcement accurately and therefore clarity during training.
The impaired ability to simultaneously release pressure may have a negative impact on equine learning and training, and consequently equine stress and welfare. The consensus at the conference was that further research is needed into the incorporation of materials such as elastics.
On the Ground
Your Horse Editor, Julie Brown, says:
Carl Hester gave me these reins at Your Horse Live last year, as he thought they might be useful for my horse Boris – I was struggling to keep him in a consistent, soft outline. I sold Boris shortly after but recently I’ve been using them with my young mare Vespa. Being a baby, she sometimes tries to use my hands as a prop, particularly if she’s a little tired. To stop this and to make sure I wasn’t making it worse by pulling back, I thought I’d give these a go. The reins have an elastic insert that gives slightly, allowing for a soft feel. It’s impossible for the horse to take a hold which, in turn, makes sure the rider isn’t being too heavy either.
She goes on to say “The results weren’t instantaneous but after a few sessions I definitely saw the benefit. Even if Vespa did try to lean, she
wasn’t able to, and a nice soft contact ensued. They aren’t dressage legal, so Vespa needs to learn to take a nice soft contact no matter what reins I’m using, but I find that if I have a schooling session full of leaning and pulling and everything else fails, then using the reins really works. I can highly recommend them as a training aid to be used when needed.”
Having read articles for and against I think that they are a good idea in moderation, I think, like many training aids, they have a place. I also think that training aids are not a panacea and that, ultimately, it is correct training, correct riding, goal setting and incremental training programmes which make a horse work well and a partnership successful.
They say “Patience is a virtue” the reality is that you will get virtually nowhere without Patience.