horse training aids

Researchers know that, when used and fit properly, training aids, such as the Pessoa training aid, can be useful in longed horses and have positive effects. However, British researchers have confirmed that pressure from some training aids could prevent horses from improving their movement through these aids.

“Training aids are very useful for a variety of reasons, but the benefits of their use might be diluted when there are other pressures interfering,” said Russell Guire, a PhD candidate at the Royal Veterinary College, in London, and a researcher at Centaur Biomechanics in Warwickshire, both in the U.K. He presented his group’s study at the 2017 British Equine Veterinary Association Congress, held Sept. 13-16, in Liverpool.

In their study, Guire and his fellow researchers tested three training aids’ effects on 10 healthy, sound riding horses’ movement during longing. A single longer worked each horse in both directions, with four repetitions, each time fitted with either a surcingle (also called a training roller in the U.K.) alone or a training roller with a Pessoa system, a continual rope system, or side reins. The scientists equipped the horses with inertial measuring units to determine pelvic range of motion and movement symmetry during the tests.

Although the researchers found minor differences between the training aids compared to the training roller alone, there were no statistically significant differences in the studied movements at both trot and canter, Guire said.

So what does that mean for these aids’ use?

While science has already confirmed the usefulness of training aids like the Pessoa system and elastic bands, improperly fitted training rollers could be squelching any benefit these systems offer.

“We’ve noted significant pressure under the training roller that’s close to the pressure found during a sitting trot,” Guire said. “Most rollers don’t have trees, so when they’re tightened up, they put that pressure directly onto the horse’s spine at about the level of T12-T13 (thoracic vertebrae). We believe that this pressure could reduce any benefits the horse could have from the training aids.”

Previous studies by the same team have already indicated that pressure at T12-T13 inhibits locomotion, he added.

Their group is currently working on a study that should help give concrete recommendations about how to fit a training roller so as to let horses fully benefit from training aids on the longe, said Guire.

In the meantime, however, people can try longing with a training roller on top of the saddle or putting pads around the withers to ensure clearance under the training roller, he said.

The study, “Effect of Training Aids on Movement Symmetry, Pelvic Range of Motion and Rein Tension Pressures During Lunge Exercise,” was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.