The effect of elastic reins on rein tension and performance in dressage horses

Gwyneth Bohara, Bryony Lancaster, Hayley Randle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Many interactions between horses and humans are mediated through some form of physical equipment, particularly when riding. Multiple styles of reins constructed with elastic inserts are available for purchase with the promise that they will help dressage riders develop a light, steady and ‘elastic rein’ contact for the betterment of both their scores in competition and their horse's wellbeing. Although a number of studies have investigated various aspects of elastic reins, results have been inconclusive with regards to their effect on equine welfare. This study examined the effect of elasticated reins on rein tension. Using a crossover design, ten dressage horses and their usual riders performed a standardized dressage test using both leather reins and leather reins with integrated elastic inserts. Rein tension (Newtons) was recorded using strain-gauge transducers and the mean, maximum, and minimum tensions and the coefficient of variation, as a measurement of rein tension stability, were then assessed as potential indicators of impact on equine welfare and performance. Horse-rider pair performance was self-assessed by the riders and independently by a dressage judge who scored each test. Although no overall statistical differences were found in rein tension or performance measures between elasticated and non-elasticated reins, there were clear indications that this depends on the individual horse (Coefficient of Variation values ranged from 59.8 to 118.8). A commonly used descriptor regarding horse “rideability” in terms of response to rein use is whether the horse is “hard-mouthed” (i.e., generally non-responsive or responds in an unwanted manner) or “soft-mouthed” (responsive). Analysis of rein tensions and dressage test scores suggested that whilst riding “hard mouthed” horses in elasticated reins may be detrimental to welfare through impaired release of pressure, riding “soft mouthed” horses in elasticated reins may be beneficial. It is therefore apparent that the success of use of elastic in reins may depend on individual attributes of the horse, learnt or otherwise, such as whether the horse is “hard-mouthed” or “soft-mouthed.” This study confirms that the application of specific equipment, even that designed to promote better welfare outcomes for the horse, needs to be considered on an individual horse basis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-66
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Veterinary Behavior
Early online date17 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


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