Thursday, August 14, 2014

Horses Found to be Gender-Neutral Toward Riders

team penning riders
Team Penning contest in North Dakota (photo by JHY)

excerpted from a news release of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria

Scientists at the Vetmeduni in Vienna have analysed how horses are affected by the sex of their riders. Various parameters of stress were determined in horses and their riders when they covered an obstacle course. The results were surprising: the level of stress on a horse is independent of whether a man or a woman is in the saddle. Furthermore, the stress responses of male and female riders are essentially the same. The results have been published in the Journal of Comparative Exercise Physiology.

For centuries, horse riding was largely restricted to males. The previous situation is in stark contrast to the present day, when nearly 80 percent of riders are women. Modern-day equestrian sports are unique in that men and women compete directly against one another at all levels, from beginners in gymkhanas to national champions in the Olympic Games. “For this reason it is interesting to consider whether a theory of riding that was developed exclusively for men can be applied to women,” explains Natascha Ille, the first author of the recent publication.

As Ille notes, “It is often assumed that women are more sensitive towards their horses than men. If this is so, male and female riders should elicit different types of response from their horses”. Ille, Christine Aurich and colleagues from the Vetmeduni Vienna´s Graf Lehndorff Institute tested this notion by examining eight horses and sixteen riders, including eight men and eight women. Each horse had to jump a standard course of obstacles twice, ridden once by a male and once by a female of similar equestrian experience. The scientists monitored the levels of stress in the horses and their riders, checking the amounts of cortisol in the saliva and the heart rates.

In a second experiment, Ille and her colleagues studied the pressure exerted on a horse’s back via the saddle. As she explains, “Depending on the rider’s posture and position, the pattern of pressure on the horse’s back may change dramatically.” A special pad placed directly under the saddle was used to analyse saddle pressure in walk, trot and canter. Because female riders are generally lighter than males, the saddle pressure was lower when horses were ridden by females. However, the distribution of pressure did not differ and there was no evidence of differences in the riding posture between males and females.

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See University of Veterinary Medicine for the complete article

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