Do you ride with a bit? Hold your horses! Okay, now let go.

According to a new study by European equitation scientists, horses might prefer to avoid rein tension rather than just get used to it. And beyond a certain force threshold, rein tension can cause conflict behavior. To make the most of training and to keep the horse's mouth sensitive, riders need to know when to apply less rein tension, generally when the horse displays conflict behavior.

"This motivation to avoid tension is, of course, what we make use of during training," said Janne Winther Christensen, PhD, a research scientist at the faculty of agricultural sciences at Aarhus University in Tjele, Denmark, and primary author of the study. "Increased focus on timing of pressure release is likely to benefit both learning and welfare," she said.

Rein Tension Study

With her recent study, Dr. Janne Winther Christensen demonstrates that horses prefer less rein tension.

Christensen and her French and Ukrainian colleagues tested 15 two-year-old Warmblood fillies that had never before had bits in their mouths. By using young horses, the researchers were able to see how the horse reacts naturally to rein pressure before having the effects of multiple riders and trainers. By fitting them with snaffle bits with reins attached to a surcingle (a strap that fastens around a horse's girth