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Effects of Rider Experience Level on Horse Kinematics and Behavior

By Rebekah Strunk

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Large riding lesson programs are an essential part of the horse industry. To meet demand and remain profitable, lesson barns sometimes require horses to work multiple times a day with different rider levels. There is little guidance as to the behavioral and physical effects of such protocols, so lesson program managers have limited scientific evidence upon which to base horse management and welfare decisions. The current data regarding horse and rider interactions includes motion pattern variability, trunk and spine kinematics and force plate analyses. While these data are helpful to explain scenarios that can affect the horse with an accomplished rider or singular rider, to our knowledge no data exist that examine how riders with varying skill levels affect limb joint kinematics. This research was designed to determine if rider experience level affects horses' movement, possibly resulting in increased physical effort by the horse. Secondarily, we aimed to determine if rider level affects changes in behavior patterns when ridden. Riders (n=8) were paired by skill level (beginner or advanced), and horses (n=8) were paired by sensitivity level (reactive or nonreactive). Horse and rider pairs were then randomly blocked into a repeated Latin square design using rider ability and horse sensitivity as factors. The Latin Square design created sixteen trials, each comprised of five passes in a prescribed path at the trot. Kinematic analysis was completed using high-speed video capture, and joint angles were calculated using digitizing software through MATLAB (MathWorks Inc., Natick, MA). An ANOVA was performed using JMP (SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC) based on the repeated Latin square design. The Latin Square design allowed adjustment for horse sensitivity and rider level. The ANOVA suggested no differences in the measured joint angles between rider skill level or horse sensitivity level. To ensure that a subtle rider effect wasn't missed, all the kinematic measurements were subjected to a combined overall analysis with a combination of graphical techniques and MANOVA. While the combined analysis revealed no overall trends in the combined kinematic variables (p= 0.327), two variables, the front fetlock and stifle, trended towards significance of p=0.077 and p=0.096, respectively. Behaviors were quantified based on a designed ethogram and willingness scale, and each trial was videoed for analysis. Behaviors were analyzed by ANOVA, with the same Latin Square design that adjusted for rider level and horse sensitivity. There were no differences in behavior measurements as a result of rider skill level or horse sensitivity. While our data suggest no differences between beginner and advanced rider groups, future studies may reveal effects on joints during an entire stride cycle, in different gaits, and for longer periods.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 37
Department Animal and Veterinary Sciences
Degree Master of Science
Language English
University Clemson University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal roles
  3. Horseback riding
  4. Horses
  5. Mammals
  6. open access
  7. Pets and companion animals
  1. open access