Hold your horses: measuring rein tension for riders and drivers

Published On: February 13 2023

If you learned to ride as a child, changes are you were taught to guide your horse or pony using “aids”. These would include steering with the reins, squeezing the flanks left or right, and moving your weight in the saddle, known as changing your seat.

The problem was (and still is) that you never knew quite how pressure to apply when giving these cues or stimuli, especially on the reins This could lead to over-pulling on the reigns, for example, and horses and ponies developing what was called a ‘hard mouth’. That’s where load cells come in.


Rein sensors for riders

Rein sensors are a pair of pressure gauges placed between the bit in the horse’s mouth and the two reigns held by the rider. Simple to clip on, these sensors transmit data to a mobile phone app, enabling coaches to watch in real time not only the pressure applied but also the symmetry of that pressure between left and right reins. The coach could then coach the rider to improve their rein technique for the benefit of the horse and rider.

A recent edition of the BBC’s tech programme “Click” showed how the Scottish Rural College used a more accessible version. Rather than feeding back to an app, the data linked to a small box mounted behind the horse’s ears. The box’s light system shows the rider in real time both the balance and pressure, allowing the rider to adjust their technique and see the results instantly.


RT in harness racing

It’s not just riders who need to be conscious of rein pressure; so do those driving harnessed horses in jigs or carriages. A team from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences investigated rein tension (RT) in the highly competitive world of harness racing.

“Left and right rein tension was measured with load cell sensors (IPOS Technology). The sensors (weight 68 g) were placed between the bit and the rein using a leather shaft strap. One additional leather strap was attached between the bit and rein for safety reasons in case the IPOS sensor broke … Measurements were received wirelessly through a smartphone carried by the drivers (through the IPOS app) via Bluetooth.”

The results showed:

“Rein tensions (RT) were higher than those reported during riding or in horses worked from the ground. The findings of high RT, taken together with the high reported prevalence of oral injuries in harness trotters, call for further research.”


Helping horses travel in comfort

If you travel by train, you’ll know what it’s like to travel standing up. You feel every sway of the carriage, and even the most gentle of braking and stops can jolt your latté. So image how it must feel for a horse in a trailer, travelling long distances along potholed UK roads, swung around roundabouts, contained in a noisy environment, and subject to stop/start breaking. It can be a real balancing act, even if they have go a leg at each corner!

A team from the School of Veterinary Science at Massey University NZ investigated the “Vertical and Horizontal Motion of a Horse’s Centre of Mass During Trailer Transport” with the aim of informing and improving trailer design, and reducing the stress placed on the horses during transport.

“A custom two-horse trailer was built for this project. It had a horse compartment 1.85 m wide by 3.95 m long, with adjustable bulkheads and a centre divider separating the horses. The floor was instrumented with 24 shearbeam load cells to measure the vertical load imposed by each horse and its horizontal motion.”


Load cells in other equine studies and research

Interested in all things equine and load cells? Check out our two previous article on the subject.

Horse helmets and load cells: testing strength from side impact

How load cells help test horse riding helmets, understand stresses on a horse’s knee cartilage and ensure their girths are not too tight.

Best hoof forward: load cells and equine research

From 2018, a look at the role played by load cells in various equine care and research projects.


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