Horse Laterality, Human Handedness, and Rein Tension

Rein tension tended to be higher when a right-handed rider rode left-lateral horses compared to right-lateral ones.
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Horse Laterality, Human Handedness, and Rein Tension
Rein tension tended to be higher when a right-handed rider rode left-lateral horses compared to right-lateral ones. | Photo: iStock
Researchers are learning more about the importance of laterality—the preference an animal or person shows for one side of its body—in both horses and humans. In fact, a team from Germany recently discovered that equine laterality and human handedness can impact rein tension. So, how can riders achieve the ideal rein tension? Match handedness with the same laterality, they say.

“Rein tension in horse-rider combinations with the same direction of laterality was more stable, which might be more beneficial for the stability of rein tension and therefore improve training and welfare,” said Sandra Kuhnke, a PhD candidate at the University of Kassel in Germany. Kuhnke carried out her study under the leadership of Uta König von Borstel, PhD, of the University of Göttingen, also in Germany, and presented her results at the 2016 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held June 23-26 in Saumur, France.

In her study, Kuhnke first evaluated horses using different known laterality tests on the ground and compared the results to the laterality determined by the animals’ regular riders. For 12 Warmblood horses, she tested:

  • The preferred foreleg when grazing;
  • The preferred foreleg when eating from a bucket;
  • The preferred eye used to look at three novel objects; and
  • The displacement of the horses’ hindquarters to the left or right when standing with parallel hind limbs.

Kuhnke found that the first three of these laterality tests seemed to have no particular correlation with the horse’s laterality as determined by the rider. The fourth test—hindquarter displacement—seemed “fairly reliable,” although it certainly “is not bulletproof,” she said

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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