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Experts on training aids: Can they cause more problems than solutions?

According to experts, training aids should be used with caution. Photo: Canva Pro

Do training aids actually work and how do they affect the horse?

One of the most common reasons some riders use training aids is the desire for the horse to maintain the correct posture. Here training aids come in but do they work, and what impact do they have on the horse?

Chambon, side reins, draw reins. There are many different types of so-called training aids and similar tools. What they have in common is that they force the horse to bend its neck. According to veterinarian Rikke Mark Schultz, these aids don't necessarily make the horse bend its neck at the right place, nor do they automatically result in the correct posture. Additionally, training aids should be used with caution.

Read also: Visualize Your Way to Becoming a Better Rider

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“Training aids can be good for guiding a horse towards the correct posture, but it should understand this after 2-3 uses. If it doesn’t, you should try a different method,” explains Rikke Mark Schultz in her book “Understand Your Riding Horse”.

Affects the horse's natural balance

A horse bending its neck doesn't mean it will automatically adopt the correct posture. On the contrary, fixing the horse's head can potentially challenge its balance.

“The training aid will 'collect' the horse in front, but it doesn't make the rest of the body work correctly. The horse uses its neck significantly for balance, so it causes problems if the neck and head are fixed in a stationary position. If the neck is held still, the body is locked.” This is how Rikke Marie Andersen, a specialist in equine science and a McTimoney animal chiropractor, describes it on her website.

Should Be Dispensable

Sue Dyson, a world-renowned expert in equine orthopedics, believes there is no need for aids such as side reins or draw reins if both riding and training are done correctly and the horse is generally in physical balance.

“The function of training aids is generally to promote correct use of the back and core muscles. If the horse is trained correctly, these structures should be adequately activated on their own,” says Sue Dyson.

Can Be Beneficial for Rehabilitation

If a horse has been injured, sick, or otherwise inactive for an extended period, using training aids can be beneficial, according to Sue Dyson. However, she recommends doing so under the guidance of an equine physiotherapist or similar professional.

“A rehabilitation program should aim to strengthen the entire horse and include core exercises such as carrot stretches and correct use of aids like the Pessoa,” states Sue Dyson.

Should Only Be Used in Short Intervals

Training aids may not look like much, but according to Sue Dyson, they make training significantly harder for the horse. The training becomes more intense because the horse potentially uses its body and structures in an unfamiliar way. Because the horse is forced into a position, it often has to use muscles it might not typically use.

“It can be quite demanding for the horse to work with the equipment. When using training aids, I recommend that the horse be trained with them for only about a third of the normal training time, simply to avoid exhaustion. Some horses can handle it for 15 minutes, while others can only tolerate five. Keep an eye on how the horse reacts,” she advises.

Requires an Experienced Rider

Using training aids requires experience, according to several experts. This applies to both the use and the fitting of the equipment.

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“Incorrect fitting of the equipment can cause more problems than solutions,” says Russell Guire, a PhD candidate at the Royal Veterinary College in London and a researcher at Centaur Biomechanics.

Russell Guire's team investigated the mechanisms around the Pessoa system and side reins on 10 horses on the longe. They found significant pressure points along the spine due to incorrect fitting of the equipment.

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“Training aids can be useful for various reasons, but their benefits disappear when another pressure disrupts,” says Russell Guire.

Sue Dyson also emphasizes that training aids require experience to function as intended.

“If you put draw reins in the hands of a beginner, they won’t give you the desired result. There are greater chances of success if they are in the hands of an experienced rider,” she says.

Rikke Mark Schultz also writes in her book:

“A wise rider once said: Training aids should only be used by very skilled riders – and they don’t need them at all.”

Read also: Bucket List: Everything a Horse Enthusiast Should Try at Least Once

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