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What is the Correlation between Equine and Human Laterality vis-à-vis Rein Tension?
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What is the Correlation between Equine and Human Laterality vis-à-vis Rein Tension?

Recently, a research team from Germany discovered that both horse laterality and human handedness have an impact on rein tension. With this in mind, can horse riders achieve the most ideal rein tension? According to the researchers, you can do that by matching your handedness with your horse’s corresponding laterality.

Laterality is the preference that a person or an animal puts on one side of their body.

According to Sandra Kuhnke, a PhD candidate at Germany’s University of Kassel, the study found out that rein tension observed in equine-rider combinations adhering to the same direction of laterality experienced higher stability. This is often more advantageous for general stability of rein tension and thus leads to better horse training and welfare.

Kuhnke, who conducted her research under the guardianship of Professor Uta König von Borstel, PhD, of the University of Göttingen, presented her study findings in Saumur, France at the 2016 International Society for Equitation Science conference which was held on June 23-26.

Kuhnke initially evaluated the 12 Warmblood horses in her study using common ground laterality tests before comparing her findings with the laterality results determined by their regular riders:

  • Preferred foreleg during grazing
  • Preferred foreleg when eating from a bucket
  • Preferred eye when looking at 3 novel objects; and finally
  • Hindquarter displacement to the right or left when standing using parallel hind limbs.

The first 3 of the laterality tests above appeared not to have any particular correlation with a horse’s laterality as determined and reported by its rider. However, the 4th test seemed to be fairly reliable though, in Kuhnke’s own words, it “certainly isn’t bulletproof”.

With this finding, Kuhnke concluded that the most reliable tests seemed to be just asking a particular horse’s most experienced rider because knowing the horse well seemed to be giving more satisfying answers.

Next, Sandra Kuhnke took measurements of rein tension between the riders and their study horses under saddle in all gaits. Unlike in the initial ground tests, rein tension correlates with riders’ laterality evaluations. Average rein tension was roughly twice as high in both reins in left-lateral equines compared to right-lateral ones. However, Kuhnke also realized that rein tension showed higher levels of stability on the side of a horse’s preferred laterality for both horses.

A right-handed rider on a left-lateral horse also tended to be much stronger with their right hand going both directions. In addition, he would generally apply much more tension to the reins. Kuhnke concluded that horse-rider combinations that also had the same laterality direction seemed to have better coordination and maintained rein contact more stable.

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  1. Of Horse Support
    Of Horse Support
    Great post! Thanks for sharing, Dajine.
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