Home In the latest issue Rider effects on rideability scores, behaviour, and tension

Rider effects on rideability scores, behaviour, and tension


By J.W. Christensen; R. Munk; L. Hawson; R. Palme; T. Larsen; A. Egenvall; U. U. König von Borstel; M. Vilain Rørvang

Many breeding organisations include a subjective scoring of rideability by a professional rider into their evaluation of sports horses, but the consistency and reliability of the scoring system is debateable.

The aim of this study was to investigate (i) whether professional riders agree in their scoring of rideability, (ii) whether rideability scores are affected by rein tension, horse conflict behaviour, heart rate, and salivary cortisol, and (iii) whether riders induce different levels of conflict behaviour and physiological responses in the horses.
Ten professional, female riders each rode 10 dressage horses (level M German scale; n = 100 combinations) through a standardised dressage test (10 min warm-up followed by a 4-min test) and subsequently scored the horses for rideability on the official 1-10 scale (1 = poor to 10 = excellent) from the Danish Riding Federation. Rein tension, horse heart rate, saliva cortisol and conflict behaviour were measured for each rider-horse pair.
The riders were inconsistent in their scoring of rideability to the individual horses, e.g. scores for one of the horses ranged from 1 to 8. There was a significant effect of rider (P = 0.003) and the frequency of conflict behaviour (undesired head movements: P < 0.001, breaking the gait: P = 0.013, and other evasive behaviour: P = 0.032) on rideability scores, i.e. the more conflict behaviour the lower the score.
There was no significant effect of rein tension and the physiological measures on rideability scores. However, there was a significant effect of rider on rein tension, horses’ heart rate and increases in saliva cortisol concentrations and a tendency for some types of conflict behaviour, suggesting that some riders induced more discomfort in the horses.
Future studies could help shed light on which elements of riding style are particularly important for sport horse welfare. In conclusion, this study found a large variation in rideability scores assigned to 10 sports horses by 10 professional riders. Rideability scores were dependent on the level of horse conflict behaviour, but not rein tension and physiological measures. Further studies are needed to improve the objectivity, consistency and reliability of rideability assessment of sports horses.

1. Introduction

Behavioural traits of horses are important for safe horse-human interactions (Hawson et al., 2010) as well as animal welfare (e.g. Schork et al., 2018). Accordingly, the majority of riders consider the horse’s behaviour during riding and training to be of major importance (Górecka-Bruzda et al., 2011; Graf et al., 2013). Rideability is described as the degree of comfort a rider feels when riding a horse and the ease with which a horse can be ridden (König von Borstel et al., 2013; König Von Borstel and Glißman, 2014). This particular trait has been suggested to be one of the most important traits when assessing a horse, by both riders (Górecka-Bruzda et al., 2015) and breeders (Teegen et al., 2008). It is common practice to assign a rideability score to sport horses during performance testing.
In a study on 234, three-year-old Danish Warmblood horses, weak negative correlations were found between rideability scores and reactivity, measured as evasive behaviour during an official conformation evaluation, suggesting less reactive horses were easier to ride (Rothmann et al., 2014). Although rideability is aimed to be a standardised evaluation, streamlined among professional riders and judges, the measurement is inevitably affected by the level and quality of prior training and individual preferences. The performance test commonly involves the horse being ridden for a brief period by a professional test rider who then assigns a score for rideability for that horse. The test rider is appointed by the national equestrian federation conducting the tests. There is no calibration between riders prior to the horse assessment process.
Ground judges may also score rideability based on observed communication between rider and horse, e.g. through rein contact and the riders’ legs and seat (König Von Borstel and Glißman, 2014). However, there appears to be limited agreement among test riders and judges when applying existing scoring guidelines for rideability (König von Borstel et al., 2013), and it is debatable, if rideability can be considered a stable temperamental trait and as such, it should be re-considered whether it is appropriate to include it into the evaluation of sports horses.
In a survey with 1,087 riders (competition 49%, leisure 38%, and professional 9%), the conclusion was a need for more objective assessment methods of horses’ temperament, and the survey participants supported a restructuring of the current assessment (Graf et al., 2013). Thus, there is a need to further investigate to which extent professional riders agree in their scoring of rideability to the same horses as well as to implement more objective measures to assess this particular trait.
This study aimed to investigate (i) whether professional riders agree in their scoring of rideability, and (ii) whether rein tension, horse conflict behaviour, heart rate and saliva cortisol reflect the scores given by riders, and (iii) whether riders induce different levels of conflict behaviour and physiological responses in the horses... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber