Can riders transfer stress to their horses? A study presented at the International Equitation Science Symposium several years ago confirms it…
53 pairs of horses and riders were tested (each of the 26 horses at least twice with a different rider). Riders were also asked to rate different aspects of their riding skills on a scale from 1-10, for instance their nervousness and harmony (quality of communication) between themselves and the horse. The riders were asked to ride a course that included the following situations:
1) Riding walk as a control situation.
2) The rider was made nervous by telling him/her falsely to expect the horse to be startled by a water-jet.
3) Both rider and horse were surprised by an experimenter unexpectedly opening and closing an umbrella.
The heart rate of the horses was registered.in each of these situations.
The results showed that heart rate of horses tended to be higher when only the rider or when both rider and horse were nervous compared to the control situation. The horse’s heart rate during all experimental situations were lower when the riders rated the horse’s responsiveness as good and when the riders had more experience.
These findings indicate that more trained riders and those more in harmony with the horse are at lower risk of inducing nervousness in the horse that can potentially lead to dangerous fear reactions in the horse. The conclusion of this study is that there is a transmission of nervousness from the rider to the horse but that this risk is smaller if the rider is trained and in harmony with the horse.